‘Dark clouds’

John Makinson, the CEO of Penguin in an interview with Reuters was asked what he saw for the publishing industry in 2012. He replied:

Dark clouds.

Clearly he thinks this Christmas is likely to be a watershed moment in the history of publishing. I suspect that he’s right.

There are numerous discussions on pricing, business models and innovation going on across the industry, some of it gritty detailed and difficult, some of it highly speculative and future focused. The level of debate about the future, for those watching, is both interesting and intellectually stimulating. It is a bit like taking apart a much loved motorbike to understand its innermost workings and then trying to imagine new ways it could work if it were reassembled differently. In time, I believe that this will make for a much more dynamic industry.

But the central front of change is not with industry professionals. Change is coming from you. The book industry will change, has changed because you the reader are already deciding it. This is simply about how quickly you are convinced that the experience of buying a book digitally has more utility (in whatever way that may be defined for you) than buying in a bookshop.  We started training for this long ago by buying print books online. The evidence would suggest that you are being convinced to take the next step to digital reading at an increasing rate. And so now we are reaching the critical Christmas sales period, the point at which all sales jump forward. It would follow therefore that we are likely to see an amplification of an increasing trend. The next few weeks will determine how fast digital reading will become the normal method of reading.

Of course, we do not yet know how big that amplification will be, but it is entirely possible that it could be decisive. Ultimately it will all boil down to the momentum of consumer choice. You only have to spend some time talking to ‘civilian’ readers to know that the digital experience is taking hold rapidly in their minds. We are already well beyond industry insiders and gadget geeks. A good swathe of heavy book buyers and niche markets are increasingly convinced. This is I think, the moment that general readers and social readers climb on board. They’ve thought about how much they still like print books, but they’ve dabbled with their friend’s kindle and like the idea that there would be a lot less clutter. They know nothing of business models and royalty splits. Its just an easier and cheaper way of buying some stories. What’s more it has the hallmark of the classic word of mouth bestseller, you kind of need to know what its all about.

So in February next year we will see clearly the directions in which the Christmas buying surge has gone. We will know then whether 2011 will add to its list of scalps (it having been a busy old year for the four horsemen) the publishing industry as we know it.

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One thought on “‘Dark clouds’

  1. Pingback: Friday round-up « Green Light

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