Recognition Triggers (Part II)

LeHatThis is the second part of my Recognition Triggers series. If you haven’t read the first part, you can do so here. And here we go!

Crossovers to other media forms is not uncommon. However, I am led to wonder at how many of these forays have been successful, with the exception of film adaptations. It is difficult to pinpoint a truly successful crossover, but in this case, the onus is on the recognition trigger prompted by other media forms. Let’s take the book as the main focus of objectivity in this post, with this flowchart as the point of reference:

BOOK > OTHER MEDIA > BOOK

The other media forms may be regarded as audio, movies, TV shows, apps, games, etc. For instance, the Harry Potter films and books were wildly successful, but the games have been less fortunate. To the best of my research, the video games have never been a top seller, although critics have given mixed and respectable reviews.

AngryBirdsHowever, the Angry Birds brand is a different story. Though originally an app, it has spawned a series of books, including children’s books published by Egmont UK. The example is unique as it further demonstrates the new web cohesiveness that is slowly becoming more mainstream.

GoTThe TV is also an excellent platform for triggering further recognition, as evidenced by the success of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which originated from Archie Comics, and the Game of Thrones by HBO, which practically skyrocketed George RR Martin’s stock and gave a massive boost to the book sales of A Song of Ice and Fire series. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’s TV adaptation won a series of awards. A mention needs to be made of the Oprah Book Club and the Richard and Judy Book Club, which also contributed to sales of featured books.

What about auditory media? Can a book spark an interest into auditory media, such as songs, audiobooks, podcasts, and radio? It is honestly hard to say, but again the changing digitisation and with streaming becoming the norm, there are examples that strike out. Freakonomics, written by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, has become a global brand and boasts of a blog, radio station and lectures today. But, on the other hand, music and singers have been immortalised in books, especially non-fiction biographies and auto-biographies. Still, it is not relevant to the flowchart of reference.

TomClancy

Tom Clancy – an author who is attached to 51 video game titles, which is more than gaming stalwarts like Sid Meier.

It is difficult to say whether video games have successfully contributed to the general sales of books. The Lord of the Rings Online is one example of a successful game being adapted from a book and EA released Dante’s Inferno in 2010. Far Cry 2 borrowed heavily from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And there are the Tom Clancy game series as well, which borrow from the story lines of Clancy’s works. But, it is a safe bet that games do not trigger the same recognition effect as its visual cousins do – the movies and TV. Which is strange, but then again, games aren’t that reaching as the duo.

Finally, another interesting domino effect of books and their relationships with other media is how they serve to create an expanded universe. One such example is the Star Wars universe. But it also belays the question as to why books and comics are regarded as worthy expansion pieces, which may be pointed to an influx of factors. Nevertheless, the core reason is simple – there is nothing like a line to be read – be it printed or in digital ink.

Image Credits: Kotaku/Gawker, Hollywood Reporter, Danny Graydon

Recognition Triggers (Part I)

LeHat“Sometimes, when you have seen a movie, you may want to buy the book…” These were the first lines that I read when I was gifted an illustrated copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, when I was still a young child. Black Beauty is a beautiful novel, yet what I intend to focus is the relationship between books and movies.

books-moviesThere is little doubt that a movie adaptation of a book is a surefire way to generate additional sales. It is not uncommon for the sales of a book to see an upward surge after a movie has been released. Likewise, the same motion picture enjoys a pre-interest and recognition buzz, thus providing the marketers with additional campaign material.

In 2010, the printed books were bolstered by the release of books like Mockingjay and a domino effect from movie sustained titles, such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Twilight Saga. Also, the film adaptation of the Hunger Games had been announced in March 2009, which may or may not have contributed to the initial sales for Mockingjay.

The relationship between movies and books brings forth many benefits for different parties. Some instances can be taken up, such as brand formation and the subsequent identification of the players involved with the brand. Think of Tom Hanks as Professor Robert Langdon of Dan Brown’s works. Or Heath Ledger as The Joker. The publishers and booksellers benefit massively from this, as the booksellers begin to restock the title and promote it along with the existing film publicity. The publishers release the movie tie-in editions, typically in both trade paperbacks and mass-market formats. So, there is usually a boom for most of the parties.

Bourne Set

Jason Bourne by Robert Ludlum: 1980 edition; 2000s edition; movie tie-in edition featuring Matt Damon; current edition featuring expansion of universe by Eric Van Lustbader.

Today, there is an increased overlap between the content platforms and the media forms. Few content forms are exclusive to one type of form, as there is always a business desire to create a brand and milk more from it. Movies are a proven trigger, but what about games, apps, TV shows? Can there be a consistent symbiotic relationship or a crossover from books to games or vice-versa? The relationship between books and the other forms of content is murky, at the best. I’ll be exploring this further in the next part of the series.

Image Credits: The Bourne Wiki, Wine Press Publishing/WarrenAdler

Link Of Interest: Goodreads (Books-Movies)

An Agent of Change: Digital Disruption

LeHatThe digital disruption phenomenon is a strong undercurrent in many business enterprises and ventures nowadays. It has been defined by James McQuivey, of Forrester Research, as a means to change the entire way products are conceived, created and distributed in every industry.

Education ToolsCreation and usage of free or cheap digital tools is one necessity of digital disruption. Customer experience and satisfaction is acknowledged as the ultimate goal – think of Amazon in this case. It is no secret that they put the customer first and foremost. Finally there is an increased premium on partnerships, as they allow for more benefits and lesser costs.

While this is just a glimpse of the myriad opportunities provided by digital disruption, it has already made its way in the boardrooms – influencing acquisitions. Corporations have started looking and acquiring disruptive industries – which are potentially able to reposition the assimilating company into a position to capture the maximum profits in the future value chain. Think of Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr, the popular microblogging platform.

Finally, the digital disruption is not merely affecting the workflow of the companies. It is also ushering structural changes, which can be reflected in the demand for skilled and experienced people in IT, ICT and digitally focused sectors. One such publishing example can be seen in HarperCollins’ hiring of Charlie Redmayne, who was the CEO of Pottermore.digital-response

So far, the impact has been felt in the downstream strata of industries, hitting and effecting changes in distribution, operations, etc. However as the obvious agenda is transforming the upstream, where the margins are more, it remains to be seen what changes may occur in the future of companies and their handling of the digital disruptors.

An infographic about digital disruption, based on the research of Deloitte, can be found here.

Image Credits: Jackie Flynt, London Calling Social Business

The Gatekeepers’ Conundrum

LeHatOften, we debate about the changing publishing industry. But, have we stopped to think about the possible scenarios that could occur with regards to the strong, silent gatekeeper of the world of books?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact nature of the commissioning editor role within the publishing industry, owning to the distinctiveness of the trade, academic, educational, and journal spheres. However, as the name suggests, the underlying function of the commissioning editor is to unearth potential authors and content that will deliver the best value possible, keeping in mind the nature of the frontlist and publishing company.

So, will the role of the CE change in accordance to the Internet and its digitally fostered environment? Common logic dictates, yes, evolution is bound to happen and change is inevitable. Also, history lends its voice as well. The question is how? Relevant skills to manipulate the cyber world are a necessity, rather than a requirement. Will the CEs start holding degrees that demonstrate expertise in information technology? Will XML knowledge become a prerequisite for an already formidable post?
XML2

There is already evidence of the changes taking place. Most of the major companies have embraced XML in its entirety, keeping in mind the benefits and its flexibility. This has given rise to a new type of editor – the technical editor, who deals with the content and the markup language, such as XML and HTML. Skillset, in particular, has identified skills such as product and brand development skills, multimedia production skills, understanding web analytics and the ability to price and sell in the digital environment as extremely relevant skills.

Commissioning editors have contributed to the enduring mural that depicts editors as gatekeepers and guardians of content. Yet, today, their role as gatekeepers is threatened from different sides. Self-publishing, the new darling of the industry, bypasses a lot of factors to get published and with major companies like Pearson and Simon & Schuster acquiring self publishing companies, there is something of a cloud brewing. Agents are slowly becoming more involved in the screening process, and as the growing perception is that CEs’ are too time constrained to fully invest the kind of attention required for a book and the author, it is likely that the agents may have a bigger slice of the entire pie. Finally, with market knowledge becoming more important, it is not implausible that sales/marketers may usurp some of the CE’s functions.

Assassin's Creed BrotherhoodCD assassinscreedbookToday, the CEs are searching for books that can stand its ground against game companies and other entertainment ventures. Ultimately, due to the crowded entertainment arena, the CE’s role may slowly deviate away from books and focus on acquiring content that can be produced in a plethora of formats. Yet, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a good story will always sell irrespective of the format it appears in. Plus, talent will constantly need to be unearthed.

Image Credits: Data Entry, Amazon

A Leap of Faith

LeHatRecently, I completed my work placement as a marketing intern at Penguin Group of the Pearson plc. banner. As I would rightly say so, it was a childhood dream come true. I was engaged with Penguin Press – one of the sub divisions that handled imprints like Allen Lane, Penguin Classics & Penguin Modern Classics, Particular Books, and Reference. Needless to say, the journey was a learning experience and a great
eye-opener. But, as I jot down these words, I’m led to marvel at how deeply the influence of Penguin and Pearson has run in my life.

Although I have a hazy recollection of the memory, the first book that I read was Where’s Spot, by Eric Hill and published in 1980. I went on to read the iconic Ladybird series, slowly graduating from the red, blue, green to purple levels. The series also introduced me to some of the most well loved tales around the world, from The Sly Fox and the Little Red Hen to The Enormous Turnip. Such exposure to the enchanting stories was undoubtedly instrumental in stoking my lifelong love for reading and writing.

As I entered my pre-teens, I became acquainted with Roald Dahl and his books, illustrated by Quentin Blake and the Classics published by Puffin. I remember being fascinated by the bright colours and the quirky illustrations on the book cover and within. During this time, the DK encyclopaedias caught my eye and led me on a curiosity search about the world. ‘Why?’ had been my favourite question since childhood and finally there was a vessel to quench my thirst and much relief for the grown-ups.

The Classics are an enduring mural in my life. Through them, I met the Bastables, ran with Axel and Edward Malone and jousted with the noble knights of King Arthur’s Court, amongst many others. The grizzly Allan Quatermain took me as a companion around Africa – just one of the many travels I undertook around the world and far beyond, all within the confines of my room or car. Much laughter, fear, mystery, and surprise was shared as my fingers incessantly flipped pages.

Yet the authoritative, still charming voice of the Penguin Classics eluded me. The lucky and first ever Penguin Classics’ book that I got my hands on was The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens – and it was nothing like today’s sleek and distinguished black titles of Penguin Classics’. During my college years, there was an overdose of Penguin Classics’. With their insightful introductions and forewords, my grades were doubtless boosted and I understood the inner psyche of the authors, whilst they penned down their lines. Little did I know it at the time that studying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein would become an area of interest and later the subject of a publishing project. Moreover, one had never imagined receiving a personally signed copy from Charles Moore, the author of the bestselling book, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography.

Pearson plc. is a company whose motto is ‘Always Learning’. Over the times, the aura of Penguin has evolved and taken on different forms and meanings. During the placement, I observed how a team of people contribute to the brand. They are a balanced folk of ideas, charismatic team players, and have a commercial head. What is interesting is how Penguin is effortlessly able to balance the romance of publishing with the business arm. I was able to experience the culture and values postulated by Penguin first-hand. But what also struck me was the cutting edge attitude, the passion to innovate, and reach out to new avenues and explore new ways of connecting with the consumers. As an upcoming young publisher, I wonder whether it was books or Penguin, which made me to take the leap of faith to becoming a publisher.

Image credits to: Penguin Books (UK)

The Publishing Landscape in 5 Years Time (Part II)

LeHatLike the title says. If you haven’t read the first part, you can do so here. Okay, so down to brass tacks.

AppsMobileI actually think that the digital transition is already coming to an end. The facts aren’t disagreeable, for instance, the number of smartphone users in 2012 surpassed the one billion mark, the size of the tablet market being predicted to increase to 357 million users worldwide by 2016 and a new estimate forecasting that Android apps could be the first to hit the vaunted 1 million mark in June 2013. All this points to a different kind of environment that we now live in – a digitally oriented one at that.

Will eBooks totally shut down the printed word? The short term answer is no. The long term answer is yes, but it will take a long time. Until society gains access to a cheap, flexible and multidimensional tablet and it becomes the norm to do run of the mill activities with tablets, the printed word will always find a place in people’s minds. But what is also happening is that gradual, yet imperceptible phasing out of printed books is occurring, slowly, but surely.

PricingAbout pricing and eBooks, well, what has happened has happened, although parts of it have resembled a self-inflicted Shakespearean tragedy. However, the Big Six (soon 5) have more or less embraced the agency pricing model – where the publishers set the price and the retailers get a cut from it. The wholesaler model, which was the norm earlier, consisted of the publishers selling the books to the retailer at a fixed price, and the retailer set the final consumer price. Still, the irony’s not lost.

piracyPiracy. Ah, a controversial topic indeed. The easiest way to describe the potential impact that piracy has on eBooks is that a publisher can run a huge loss through a simple P2P share or a torrent started by a single person. However, a product can be only truly pirated if it is downloaded illegally – just because it is there – does not mean an automatic loss on the ledger. And as Mark Bide often reiterated in his truly inspirational lectures, obscurity is a greater threat than piracy. If you can’t get noticed, you are a complete zero. A study conducted by Brian O’Leary also  found proof that for a publisher – O’Reilly and Thomas Nelson, sales were spurred by pirated books. Yet, another study by Attributor painted a gloomy picture – that ebook piracy is on the rise. But this is somewhat co-relative – after all if there are so many tablet and smartphone sales, it’s also reasonable to expect a bump in the overall piracy levels.

Translations and formerly overlooked nations (factors were weak markets, Steig-Larrson-Millennium-Seriesunfavorable laws and lack of freedom) are becoming more important on publishers agendas. Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series, which was originally in Swedish, saw a wave of Scandinavian novels and penetrations. Today, the esteemed London Book Fair of 2013 has Turkey as its main target of focus.

Lastly, there was a major merge of publishers – with Random House and Penguin joining forces. But, not to be outdone, Amazon pulled off a really savvy business deal, which resulted in a Twitter outburst, with its acquisition of Goodreads. If a Big Six member had acquired Goodreads, instant advantage, but unfortunately the episode again demonstrates the failings of publishers and their tendency to treat consumers like one night stands. Still, there’s always hope.

amazon-goodreads

Well, that’s about it. The first series of The Publishing Hat. Thanks for reading!

Image Credits: GFK TechTalk, SWLearning, i.i.com and Mixtus Media

The Publishing Landscape in 5 Years Time (Part I)

testBefore 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.

PrintingPress(Caxton)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.Editing 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.

CopyrightLogoAnother 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 RHPenguinlot 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!

Image credits: BBC, JerryBrownPR, Wikipedia and The Telegraph

Thoughts about Music, Photography and Videos

testMusic is auditory – it is virtually painless to use, requires minimal attention and therefore, with the ease of access which online services provide, it was just a question of breaking down various barriers. And with every device imaginable in the market offering some sort of musical playback, it’s virtually impossible NOT to escape from music and its mesmerizing effect. Think Spotify, iTunes, Grooveshark. On demand and on your fingertips. Except, for the content, there is a small problem of getting noticed. And for this generation, it’s a lot more magnified and amplified than ever.

Photographs are visual, yet at the same time, it has never been easier than before to click photos. With mobile phones doubling up as powerful cameras, anyone can be an amateur photographer. And with the rise of web based photo editing services like Instagram, Flickr, etc. one can eke out professional looking photographs with relative ease. Also memes and LoLCats are the established norm. What is next?

Videos. Oddly enough, even though videos are a combination of visual and audio, they’ve never been a focused market. TV shows and music videos would fall under this category. TV shows have widespread appeal through their audience, which is estimated through TRP, yet only the wildly popular shows are actually bought. And music videos have been used mostly for promotional purposes, rather than an actual means of sales. iTunes offers users to purchase TV shows and music videos, but users would rather hit up YouTube or DailyMotion to stream the video than actually play it. I think that even though videos are underrated, they have been instrumental in promoting today’s culture of wanting free goods, quick access and quality at the same time. The reason why YouTube is so popular is because of the idea that ‘if I wanna see something, I can find it on YouTube.’ Also videos are the new trendsetters and hotspots for viral thought. Gangnam Style? Harlem Shake? Yep, we’re good.

Image courtesy of: mapichai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Quicksand in Book Selling

Bookshops could charge for browsing. Stunned? And then laughter? Or maybe a ‘what the hell’ thing? You’re not alone. That was my first and initial reaction when I read about this idea thrown forward by Victoria Barnsley. And the C.E.O of HarperCollins, one of the Big 5 to boot. Apparently, Victoria Barnsley thinks that the physical bookshop’s existence is the biggest question that publishers feel at the moment. She’s more or less right and I do agree with her to some degree. However, her remedy is not at all correct. You can’t expect a potential buyer to pay up a fee just for browsing. And if in the rare case, pay to browse bookshops did exist, it would mean the true death of bookshops and push the customers towards online retailing.

#FutureFoylesRather, what Ms Barnsley should take notice of, is how Foyles is trying to reinvent itself. The last few weeks have seen Foyles hosting crowd-sourcing workshops to get new ideas and feedback as to how it can survive in an digital world. The problem is how geared books are towards online retailing. They are compact, inexpensive and can be transported relatively quickly. Amazon realised this early on and now it is reaping the results of its foresight, even if we may decry its growing power.

So what can be done? In the near future, a day might come when there are no bookshops in the world, and everything is done digitally. Or there might come a day when publishers choose to put all their eggs in the bookstores basket and cut ties with Amazon. Perhaps they could elect to have a single, uniform platform solely run by themselves, even. Lastly, bookshops reinvent themselves and become centres where both print and digital books can be sold painlessly and hassle free, whilst having the best of both worlds.

The Value of Books and eBooks

Although the festive cheer of Christmas is long over, I feel a necessity to revisit it once more. Christmas is a time of cheer, joy and giving and publishers as well booksellers had an extra reason for having a wider and shinier smile. The Guardian reported that, ‘big name titles helped bolster the physical sales to £75m, and the weekly takings of £75.4m was a near 20% increase as compared to the last week.’

Now, all that is very well, and it’s nice to see that print books still occupy a place in the people’s psyche, especially during the festive season. However the queries are many – if that was the case, then why are the yearly sales of print books slowly declining? Why is that Hachette UK saw 250, 000 e-book sales in the season? And why are e-readers still among the most popular gift choices? The final and most important question is, what is the reason for the difference in the perceived value between eBooks and books?

EBooks are popular for a variety of reasons, the major being accessibility, ease, and mobility. At the same time, there is a perceived and clear-cut sense of lack of value. For example, if you ask an ordinary person to select what they value the most out of music, books or videos – they are more likely to choose their music collection. More evidence? Take the fact, that during the Christmas season, print books actually sold more than the eBooks, even though it is probably easy to gift someone an eBook. People still do hold an attachment for the physical object, to some degree.

But why the lack of value for eBooks? A possible reason is the same flexibility, which made eBooks so popular, also corroded the sense of value felt for books. There is no way to display your collection of eBooks or show them off, or any physical occupation to invoke memories of actually buying and spending hard-earned cash.

Publishers and distributors are also to blame for the corrosion in the value of books. In the first place – the most significant indicator to value is the price of the object. And with eBook prices jumping up and down as if they are on a trampoline, there’s little reason to hope that consumers attach serious importance to a product that is so unstable. Secondly, the 20p price tag? That’s right – books, and even bestsellers carry a price of 20p – and it’s pence. Perhaps the publishers are trying to emulate the music industry to some degree, but even a song is more expensive with a tag of £0.99. Ultimately, a 20p price tag is more likely to do more harm than actual good, and it does no favours for the value of the eBook.

When it is all said and done, the publishers need to realise that it’s no more a business-to-business world. It’s a business-to-consumer world now. And when they are able to bridge the widening schism between the price of print books and eBooks, it will go a long way into restoring the value of eBooks and ultimately the future books.

Image courtesy of: Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net