George Berkowski, author of How to Make a Billion Dollar App raised an interesting question at Futurebook last week when he spoke about how publishers have yet to “figure out who their competitors are”.
For some years, one of the overarching narratives about the book industry has been that publishers are in competition with groups who are subverting the traditional publishing models from where they get the bulk of their revenue, such as self-published authors.
Berkowski turns this narrative on its head: He advises publishers to take a step back to a more macro level and see themselves as, broadly, in competition with other entertainment providers such as filmmakers, TV networks and others.
There was a predictable focus on mobile, with examples given such as Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail app, both of which have found enormous success across tablets and smartphones, particularly amongst people on their morning and evening commutes. These are both good illustrations of how publishing in the newspaper and magazine space should be approached, but books are a more difficult proposition.
Berkowski’s point is something we’ve talked about at length before. All editorials aside, consumers have a finite amount of free time, particularly consumers with disposable income. The harsh reality is there’s a limited number of eyeballs attached to a limited number of consumers with a limited number of hours they can devote to entertaining themselves on a month by month basis.
Alongside this, publishers need to understand the modern consumer is so saturated and frankly overwhelmed by potential ways to entertain themselves that they increasingly approach recreational activities with an implicit opportunity cost in their mind (“Do I spend an hour watching Netflix, or an hour reading that new novel?”).
This trend in content consumption even shifts within purely digital environments: Ever-increasing bandwidth and a plethora of rich-media content delivery methods mean that video is consumed more widely than text, as just one example.
Publishers therefore have to approach this reality in a number of ways. One way in which they are is facilitating the more impatient nature of the average consumer with “entertainment on demand” services, usually subscription based. Oyster Books is an example of this, which aims to recreate the Netflix experience for novels, however more traditional book publishers have always been somewhat averse to delving directly into the B2C space.
Another way is that publishers, as we’ve stated before, need to offer new and novel experiences to readers, leveraging the all-important mobile devices that Berkowski spoke about at Futurebook to do this. This challenge is the more difficult one and grapples with questions like “how exactly do you create a winning interactive novel?” Something that many have struggled with.
Fortunately, there are templates to follow. Development house Simogo’s work in creating novel-like experiences with interactive elements that feel integral rather than merely tacked on is something publishers would be wise to pay attention to.
Branching out whilst staying true to core values
This in turn raises another question. If publishers are to start developing novel and innovative ways of combining the concept of the novel with tablet and mobile devices, how do they do this without sabotaging their traditional model?
The best approach here would be the opposite of what many book publishers have been doing marketing-wise and emphasizing that tradition. Printed novels were, are and always will be timeless. Attention needs to be paid to that timelessness as part of a two pronged strategy to reach out into new “blue ocean” markets with novel new ideas about what books are, whilst maintaining their status as esteemed purveyors of printed fiction.