Before I begin, this post is going to be a little long. Apologies in advance! This is the first part of a double series on one of my experiences as a MA Publishing Student at UCL.
In our first publishing class, we were a bunch of bright-eyed folk with varying degrees of experience and knowledge of the publishing industry – but united by a common love for books. Our professor asked us to write an single page about how we saw the publishing landscape in 5 years time. Below is my entry.
Publishing is caught in midst of a necessary transition, whilst the world journeys towards a digital medium – a blend of web, mobile, information, accessibility and communication. With change – different models spring up; old agreements and structures are broken or re-adapted to cater to the ever-changing world.
The publishing scenario is going to likely be set in a new digital model, or at the very least, in the final fringes of the current transit period. It could become more of a cross-media industry than ever. However, publishing is directly based on four major pillars – editing, copyright, sales/marketing and production/quality. The medium may have changed, but one should never assume a demise of the industry or the reader’s love for books. It’s premature and unlikely to happen.
E-books will definitely gain a larger share in the publishing pie. It will replace the printed media as the medium of choice. That does not mean that the printed word will disappear completely. The market and production of printed books will gradually decrease, but there will be always a niche and a demand for printed books – especially in academic and higher education circles and scientific books.
It would be hopeful to expect that the e-books can also gain a higher perceived value, especially with regards to the consumers – but that is also unlikely, with the current pricing trends, the furore over the rights, copyrights and general confusion, such as most viable e-reader, DRM, etc.
Pricing is a major problem currently, and one that I suspect will linger for a long period of time. With the entrant of Amazon as a major player, and the fact that the publishers are still unable to find a set model for pricing – usually falling back to their own individual model of pricing – this only serves to further the aura of uncertainty and low value, which surround e-books.
Another question that currently plagues the publishing world is about the e-book copyright and rights. Who owns the rights to the e-book and in what context? And, at the end of the day – is the book firmly in the hands of the reader? What about the threat of piracy and the fact that digital media can be easily pirated or compromised? Will the Digital Economy Act and Hadopi set a precedent for the rest of the world to follow in order to combat piracy and strengthen the copyright facilities?
I think that we may very well witness a downward spiral in piracy in the more developed and technologically conscious nations – but for the emerging countries, where economies and technology is still evolving, piracy is going to be more rampant there. One way to combat this is to create localized imprints/stores and sell books at the local prices and currency. Many countries are price conscious now, so the publishers will have to tread carefully, if they wish to carve a niche in those respective nations.
The publishing landscape will still be dominated by increased polarization. We may very well see two major companies as the retailers and publishers, instead of the current Big Six at the moment.
An amazing lot has happened in the span of 6-7 months. There have been changes and some of my opinions are already concrete, others actually happened and some are likely to happen in the future. For the analysis and rundown, stay tuned for Part Two!