With the rise of multi-media platforms offering different types of content from text to video to images, the race is on to win consumers’ time and attention, writes James de Waal, Head of Marketing, Business Imaging Group, Canon South Africa.

Innovative companies, such as Netflix, Spotify and Amazon, are driving change within the publishing market, as they adapt to consumer trends and offer exciting new ways to use and consume content. While these companies have a direct relationship with consumers (and are great at collecting and interpreting user data), traditional book publishers arguably have deeper expertise of collating, distributing and delivering content. In the competition for mindshare, it’s time for publishers to show the world exactly what they are capable of.

However, at the moment, book publishers are holding themselves back. Changing consumer demands require them to shake things up and move away from the processes and formats they are familiar with. In the past, book publishers’ bottom lines have taken the hit from risks on new titles or new authors, resulting in excess stock and wastage which they cannot shift, and they don’t want to be burned again.

They have relied on bestsellers as their main source of income, but as consumers are offered more choice of content than ever before, the lifespan and volume sales of a bestseller have changed, and with them, the economics of publishing. In some cases, these challenges have made book publishers more conservative and resistant to change.

A conservative culture

Newer entrants to the book publishing market have tried to push innovation forward, for example, creating a ‘Netflix for books’ subscription approach – but they have yet to prove successful.

There’s a clear line between people who read books on a daily basis and those who only read a few a year. Unlike TV and film, books demand a heightened focus from their readers. Book publishers need to begin thinking differently and trying to find new ways of engaging with their readers, by finding new ways to consume content, such as releasing one chapter per week.

To do this, they shouldn’t be held back by their current culture and should look into adopting new business models. They should look at ways of collaborating with partners in the wider supply chain to foster new innovative ways of working, which may ultimately lead to completely new product and service offerings in the future.

New production models are already altering the economics of taking a title to market. Book publishers can work with book producers using digital printing workflows to offer shorter runs or print on-demand to meet customer expectations for next day delivery and personalised content. The latest advances in complete end to end workflow solutions can turn a single sheet of white paper into a completely finished book, and variable data capabilities mean that content can be tailored to a single individual.

Book publishers can also look to create complementary content that sits across both digital and physical media, creating a unified ‘experience’ and extended choice for the consumer. Providing content that meets the expectation of consumers, and offers them the opportunity to seamlessly switch between different formats, gives them the convenience, timeliness and relevance they demand.

A captivated community

There’s little value in developing content if you don’t know who it is aimed at, what your customers want from it, when they would be most receptive to it, or how willing they are to pay for it. Book publishers need to move away from focusing on cost-price alone and re-direct their efforts into researching their customers to help provide more valuable content and ways to monetise it.

The key for book publishers is to develop closer relationships with customers based on dynamic content that ultimately inspires loyalty and repeat purchase. Developing a direct relationship with the consumer will help each active partner within the supply chain adapt their business model accordingly and explore all the possibilities in providing new content experiences.

As Mark Allin, former CEO of publishing house John Wiley, commented at Future Book Forum 2018, “Niche communities drive content, but building a strong network is just as important as providing relevant content.” Book publishers should become active participants in open forums online, within niche community groups, or at industry events, to understand the drivers behind what consumers want and need. It opens the door for frank conversations with supply chain partners about the current challenges and potential solutions.

The best approach to captivating a community with engaging content is to understand their interests. This is why collecting and analysing customer data, as well as putting it to use should be a key consideration. With data capability, readers become ‘consumers’. Capturing insight on their behaviours and lifestyles can help publishers create a more insightful, 360 degree view of their interests, and tailor content to match them.

Inkitt is one company which has taken this approach. As a ‘reader-powered book publisher’, the company lets authors write and upload their manuscripts, allowing readers to read them for free. Those books that perform well based on reader engagement are then published by Inkitt in e-Book, print and audiobook formats.

With the mission to ‘discover talented writers and turn them into globally successful authors’, Inkitt has succeeded by understanding its readers’ behaviour, collected through its reader community via the app and interpreted using data analytics tools. This has also allowed Inkitt to identify the appropriate target group for each manuscript and offer targeted marketing concepts to authors and their titles.

It’s important to note that this type of business model depends on the content being popular – which again underlines the importance of understanding the customer community.

Dedicated resources

Innovation demands commitment. Google, for example, has always encouraged employees to devote 20 percent of their time (one full day per week) to side projects[1]. And the outcomes speak for themselves: Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon all started as side projects.

For the book publishing industry, the same rules should apply. While a change in mindset and engagement within specialist interest community groups and the wider publishing supply chain may help to develop new ideas, innovation can only happen by committing capacity within the business.

Mark Allin states: “It’s challenging having to create a balancing act between maintaining the current products and services you offer, while trying to innovate at the same time. Innovative publishing businesses should look to free up resource and dedicate teams to explore how they can work smarter and more efficiently, but also be agile and flexible enough to align with ever-changing consumer trends.”

Doing so will help book publishers make more intelligent choices for their business. Whether it’s a question of the technology they use or adopting the most appropriate and realistic business model, they need to have the time to reflect on current and future processes to aid new developments.

Shifting the weight on your shoulders

There’s a huge opportunity for book publishers and it’s time for them to take the reins. They already have great foundations for collating content, distribution and delivery. It’s time to invest in improving customer insight and data, as well as embrace new business models driven by digital print solutions to deliver content across multiple platforms, in innovative formats and with pricing models that suit contemporary consumers.

[1] https://www.inc.com/bryan-adams/12-ways-to-encourage-more-free-thinking-and-innovation-into-any-business.html

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