Globalocal 2014: Publishing searches for its identity

13 February 2014

During the CEOs Roundtable session at the fifth edition of Globalocal, conclave hosted by the German Book Office, in New Delhi today, publishers and experts deliberated on several emerging issues of the publishing industry.


Vinutha Mallya, founding editor, Booksy.in, and moderator of the session, set the tone of discussion by saying, “There is so much convergence in the field of content. Focus is now more on readers and user-generated content. This trend not only interests new age media publishing houses but traditional publishers too.”

Neeraj Jain, managing director, Scholastic India added, “Consumer is becoming more and more active and setting up new guidelines for publishers. Instead of adopting an approach where the consumer comes to you, we started Scholastic with the aim of going to the customers by adopting the 3C (content, consumer and connect) philosophy.”

Urvashi Bhutalia, publisher, Zubaan Books in her opening remarks said that it’s a great moment of possibilities, changes and it’s time for questioning for publishing industry. “Publishers are now often questioned if they have a role left to play since author and readers are now interacting more closely. It’s a moment for self-reflection.”

Talking about the changing landscape of publishing, she added, “POD (Print On Demand) model is helping us in keeping an active blacklist and changing dynamics of the relationship with the reader. Crowd-sourced content is also emerging as an interesting content generation model. In the future, authorship can be collective. Among the challenges we face are plagiarism, sloppy writing, sloppy academics. In addition, the threats like which Penguin faced leading them to pulp the book is alarming. Can we hold on to the content as we used to earlier or should we start thinking about creative commons or similar philosophies?”

Winne Hung, publishing and cross-segment strategy development manager, HP Asia Pacific, shared her views based on her vast experience dealing with the publishing industry. She noted that technology should not only be perceived as a threat. “Traditional publishers are in search of new identity, and few have also started the process. There is opportunity. Educational publishing is a good example that technology is not necessarily playing a negative role.”

She also insisted that POD model has been an effective tool for publishers to manage their revenues. “It is time for publishers to look at publishing as business and look at financials. It is now possible to print less and then increase the volume when the demand picks up. This helps you bring down inventory and logistic costs. You will have to now look at print as a strategic tool.”

“Today the biggest publishing printers in Europe have adopted digital production lines for book printing. Printing books in short-run, in the range of 500-2000 books, is cheaper than offset. It allows you to print on local paper too, which is an added plus. Publishers need to just adjust their production management system, manage your inventory and adopt auto-replenishment software systems that will inform your printer to print a particular title as soon as it reaches the 50% stock limit.”

Bhutalia, however, felt that POD makes economic sense only if the publisher adopts direct selling and distribution channel. “Adding distribution cost to POD cost will make it unviable,” she said.

Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Business Blogging, took the conversation ahead by saying, “Many authors feel that publishers don’t market their books properly. Authors and publishers need to learn the art of storytelling. If you can take your readers with you during the process of the creation, it creates a new interest.” He further questioned, “Publishing and printing has a long gestation period. So why can’t we sell the book chapter by chapter and introduce micro-payments?”

e-Books: still a contentious decision?

James Appell, head of global development, Bookmate pitched his views in favour of the digital content than print. “The publishing industry is still identified with books. But sooner or later we will have to look at devices as small as mobile. At the moment, people who use devices to read are using them in a way that isn’t providing publishers with enough information or revenue. Even Amazon, which can track the behaviour of the buyer, cannot track what happens once reader has bought the book. The future is when we will be able to measure the emotional-connect of the user about the product. Tracking reader behaviour in real time will hold the key. It will move towards collective reading behaviour.”

He also proposed that publishers should look at subscription based model for long-run benefits. “At the moment, retail model is not serving the demand. Subscription based model might be the answer to this. Several books at the price of one makes it a compelling mass product.” He suggested publishers to look at the packaging of content and warned them from being obsessive about price, and look for alternative revenue model.

Adding to the discussion, Shankar said, “The attention span of readers is shortening. Shorter books will fit in beautifully with the current reading trend which in turn will fuel the growth of e-Books market.

Brijesh Kumar, founder and CEO, Digital Media Initiatives, echoed the views of the panel but presented his case in support for e-Publishing. He said, “Trend is traditional publishing is changing into integrated publishing. Disruptive innovations are changing the paradigm of business. Technology is disruptive in many ways and many new things are changing. Print and digital should stand on their own merits. The important part is how a content producer is able to connect with the consumer.”

Quoting a report by PwC, Kumar said, “The global market for consumer and educational books was worth US$101.6bn in 2012, down from revenue of US$101.7bn in 2008. Revenue is forecast to grow by a CAGR of 1%, to reach a total of US$104.3bn in 2017. Even though growth in printed books is flat or declining in most markets, it is being offset by a rise in revenues from e-Books, which will account for 22% of all books sold around the world in 2017, up from 9% in 2012. North America will have the strongest appetite for e-Books in 2017, with e-Books across both sectors accounting for 38% of all sales in 2017. In EMEA, e-Books will account for 17% of revenues in 2017, followed by 15% in Asia Pacific and 6% in Latin America—from a low base of just 1% in 2012.”

In response, Jain concluded the session by saying, “If you see the established markets like US and UK, which had taken the first road to digital, are now seeing a reverse trend. According to a report published by Nielsen in 2013, for which it interviewed those who had access to print as well as e-Reading devices, 58% people still read books. In 2012, the research company found that only 50% of those surveyed read books.” He added that it’s time for publishers to stop thinking about print versus digital and broaden their scope.

The CEO Roundtable not only brought up several interesting topics to discuss but also displayed the dilemma faced by the publishing industry. The publishing industry, which for a long period of time heckled the emergence of self-publishing and the online book stores, was forced to face a jolt from these trends. It’s time for the industry to wake-up and instead of arguing, whether to adopt digital or not, focus its attention on creating a cross-platform engagement with the readers. However, the challenge is not only to invest time in engaging the readers but also not let the quality of content take a dip.

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