If you had $10 million to invest in a new publishing business today, with no limitations or obligations, where would you put your money? That was the question posed by Jakob Larsen, head of consulting, for Danish publisher Schilling at an opening panel at ConTec 2014, the digital-themed conference that serves as the unofficial opening to the Frankfurt Book Fair. And over a brisk, 30-minute talk, the panel responses neatly captured the state of publishing in 2014, and the conversations that will be heard throughout the halls all week.
“I’m always passionate about two things: publishers and start-ups,” said Michael Bhaskar, digital publishing director for U.K-based Profile Books. “But, actually, if you look at where the growth has come from in publishing, it’s not from there.”
Bhaskar said he’d put half his money in players like Amazon, whose share price has grown to $322 today from $13 in 2001, and Pearson, which has seen its stock price rise over 80% in recent years. The rest he’d spread around to indie game developers, self-publishing ventures, and subscription ventures, although he stressed that good “blue chip” content is the best long-term investment.
“Is anyone going to be watching Netflix in 50 years? We don’t know,” Bhaskar said. “Are kids going to still like Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter? Probably yes.”
Bhaskar was followed by Georgina Atwell, from U.K.-based “discovery” start-up, Toppsta.com, who said she would put her money where she has, well, already put her money: in discovery, marketing and PR. “I think readers need help,” she said. “If I had $10 million, I’d want every book to have a marketing plan, and a marketing budget.”
Richard Charkin, executive director at Bloomsbury U.K., rounded out the panel by saying he'd put his money "at the front" of the value chain: authors. “I think our customer is not the reader, our customer is the author, and we need to get our heads around that. Authors today can choose how they publish. They self-publish, they can go for a big advance, or a smaller advance, they go to a zippy startup, or a more mature business. Charkin said he would put his money toward ensuring that publishers could fulfill their role as a “principle partner” for their authors.
The panel then went on to discuss a range of various factors that might affect their publishing investment, chief among them, territoriality and the globalization of the business, a major theme of the fair.
"Our world has changed enormously," Charkin observed. "There was a time in English-language publishing where the Atlantic Ocean was very wide and you needed separate publishers to do things across the Atlantic. It's not so wide any more."
Now in its second year, a revamped ConTec kicked off the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair with a range of presenters, from large publishers and companies, to established vendors, and new start-ups. Billed as a "base camp for global publishing trendsetters," the program offers a mix of visionary thinking, from an opening keynote talk on the nature of "content" from Kristjan Järvi, conductor and music director of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, to a series of nuts-and-bolts panels on topic like data management, standards, and design.