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Publishers are waiting

image The recent ‘Tools of Change for Publishers’ conference in New York seemed to sum up the tension in the publishing world on where their industry is heading. “Will printed books survive?” is one question which is being asked but, more importantly, “How do we keep control of our content while embracing the digital potential?” seems to be the main question on publishers minds.

The newspaper and magazine publishers are facing a dilemma. They were quick to adopt technology to reach their customers but they have trained their audience to expect a free online version of their favourite newspaper. Now that their circulations are falling, they appear to have no way to attract subscription paying customers to read their newspapers.

Magazine publishers in certain categories, such as ‘lad mags’ have seen their circulations plummet as the credit crunch hits and the magazines are ditched in favour of more wholesome entertainment like Sky Sports. Other magazine categories have seen the opposite trend in their circulations. For example, the circulation of The Economist has risen and people are happy to £4 for well written content.

Amazon recently launched the ‘Kindle 2’ which their chief, Jeff Bezos, said had been named to illustrate that their eBook reading device had been designed to be the starting point for enabling consumers to read book and newspapers in a digital medium and not an end point. That is a nice analogy although you still need something to light the kindling wood to get the fire going.

Furthermore, the use of mobile phones for reading and viewing content is growing. Personally, I now use my Nokia N96 to watch BBV TV and listen to recent radio shows using the installed iPlayer before I switch off my bed side light at night. That phone combined with improved 3G coverage has enabled me to view content in ways which I simply could not have achieved two or three years ago.

There seems to be inertia as publishers wait for the big product which enable them to provide their content in digital forms which does not see them in the position that the music industry is in where they are fighting a tactical battle of trying to catch up with their customers desires to buy music in ways which does not involve them buying an album on CD of which they only really want to two tracks. As the article in The Economist suggests “An iTunes moment.”

The Amazon Kindle 2 looks like a nice product. It has a 3G connectivity, it is light and slim and it can hold 1,500 books, it “reads like real paper”, it “boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and even crisper images” and there is a range of 230,000 books as well as newspapers, magazines and blogs to choose from.

Listening to people have used the Kindle 2, one theme stood out for me and that was one person saying that they now read more books as a result of having the device. That is why I like my iPod. I listen to far more music than I ever used to. It’s just easy.

Despite some sceptics in the UK, I think the Kindle 2 will be a success and, like the iPod, it will be improved all the time and the richness of the internet to which we have recently become fans will soon be available. I believe the ‘big thing’ for publishers and their authors will be their ability to have a closer relationship with their audiences in the digital world and they need to provide applications and tools to enable that as well as getting their books ready for Kindle-like products.

To use a Stephen Covey phrase, the Kindle will be a ‘big rock’ around which publishers must create other tools and applications which will enable their audiences to have richer experiences with their volumes of content. For example, cook books which link to short videos on techniques, or Sci-Fi books with links to fantasy games.

Publishers just need to do it. With digital, they can build things quickly, test them and assess the results rapidly. Just stop waiting for the ‘iTunes’ moment’ because it is already here. 

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Categories: business, marketing, publishing

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