In 2001, 81% of publishers were already preparing for the coming e-book (BML research March 2001). Indeed they thought it would come quickly, with half predicting e-books would deliver more than 10% of total book income by 2006. However new research conducted by BML has shown that in 2011, there are still only 10% of publishers who have reached this milestone today.
But while their birth may have been more protracted than anticipated, it seems that 2012 will be the tipping point, in revenue terms, for ebooks, with a third of publishers predicting they will make more than 10% of revenue by next year.
So where will the next paradigm shift come from and how do you ensure that your company is at the vanguard of changes? Well, often good ideas come from the left field, so you have to ensure that you can recognise good ideas from anywhere, you need an open approach to innovation--seek innovation from customers, suppliers and other sectors, such as academic publishers, as well as keeping an eye on your competitors.
Consider the digital media industry in 1999. At that point, the company that was in the best position to drive a revolution in the digital content industry was Sony. It had a strong history in portable music players, and even owned a record and movie company. Sony should have been in the perfect position to create the iPod and iTunes, yet it took Apple, a company from outside the industry, to create these products and services. This was a failure of imagination. Sony simply could not break free of their own "mental maps" of the future.
Thinking about the future requires us to consider how an uncertain world will evolve. We typically have mental maps that guide our thinking, but these can quickly become out-dated. Early mapmakers often created maps that had major inaccuracies and, despite all evidence pointing to the fact that they had made a mistake, it often took many decades for these maps to be corrected. Once you believe a map, it is very hard to change. We become trapped by our own mental maps because they have served us so well in the past.
Publishers need to be open-minded and challenge all existing conceptions of what their business is, they need to think of themselves as content creators or even media companies and not book publishers. They should see their authors as brands that can be exploited in many ways, via blogs, social networks, advertising etc. They should start by thinking what a publishing company really is. I recently visited a major bank that opened the meeting by stating that they too were a publishing company as they produce masses of written content. It certainly opened the door to freeing us from our own mental map of where our customers might come from. I would also encourage ideas people to listen out for ideas from within their own companies. Good ideas and innovation are not the preserve of senior management.
So what's next? Publishers are already seeing an increased emphasis on searchability and discoverability through metadata management. The digital revolution is also impacting on licensing, consumer marketing and royalties.
The increased amount of books and data available online means that in the next five years trade publishers will have to understand and embed the semantic web in their process. Semantic web is the process by which machines understand the meaning of information available on the World Wide Web â€“ and therefore the process by which they filter it and make it searchable for the end user. Academic publishers, with their wealth of online content, for the most part, are already learning how to master semantic web processes and it will be very important for trade publishers in the next five years.
Without it, as more and more content goes online, publishers will find online material disappearing into the web blackhole, never to be found again.
Companies cannot predict the future but they can ask the right questions. They need the imagination to consider what plausible futures might have in store for them in a world that is constantly surprising and uncertain. Publishers need to try and understand how the world will change. This is not about trying to predict the future but imagining a different set of futures, making sense of the patterns, and making sure the process and business model they opt for allows for change and innovation.
Jane Tappuni is Business Development Director (Europe) at Publishing Technology. She spoke at the London Book Fair's Digital Conference yesterday (10 April) in the panel on Investment, Innovation and Change. For more information on the BML research and the future of publishing go to blog.publishingtechnology.com.