Phillip Jones, editor of The Bookseller and creator of Futurebook, is our Keynote speaker at our Trade Day 2016. We asked Phillip his opinion on publishing in the lead up to Friday’s Trade Day.
Describe the current state of trade publishing at the moment.
Trade publishing is more positive now than at any time since 2008 when the recession began to take hold. Trade publishers appear to have weathered these economic storms, but also the digital transformation – and there has been a surprising resurgence in print book sales which speaks to the relative health of chain booksellers such as Waterstones, Eason and independent shops. Outside of Brexit (which no one knows quite how to deal with) the stability that has returned to the trade is very helpful. There is renewed confidence that books being bought by publishers today will work in the markets of tomorrow – with the additional bonus that digital has brought a new platform into play.
What is the biggest challenge facing the industry at the moment and in the future?
The biggest challenge is to keep it all going: we’ve had colouring books, the YouTuber books, and this year The Cursed Child. Not only are these big titles, but they also drive people into bookshops, shops which then provide visibility and windows of opportunity for other titles. That there are 60 Easons stores in the Ireland and Northern Ireland and 260 Waterstones in the UK (as well as others such as WH Smith, Blackwell, and indies such as The Gutter Bookshop) is vital for the trade. That Waterstones did not collapse when it might have done in 2010 is the single most important thing to have happened (or not happened!) to the book trade for 10 years.
I don’ t mean to underestimate the impact of Amazon or the Kindle, because Amazon is a huge driver of change and efficiencies across the business, and the Kindle was a magnificent reach into the digital future, and clearly self-publishing is its own mini-revolution. But what we learn from digital is that readers really also like print – and that’s been a massive fillip for everyone.
The bigger challenge going forwards is how to blend what is likely to be an increasing digital future for books with this incredibly important physical base. We are starting to understand what formats work best for which books and which audiences, and how best to reach them. But digital marketplaces are hugely complicated for content creators, not only are they dominated by large tech companies, but there tends to be a downwards pressure on price. Navigating that is a massive challenge.
What can publishers do face these challenges?
They need to keep doing what they’ve done for years, find the best content, and get it out to the biggest audiences they can as efficiently as they can. They also need to look after their authors, invest in their writing, and support their careers. They also need to take an active role in looking where content might go in the years ahead and make sure they apply the same rules to digital as they have in print – invest, innovate, use what leverage they have with the retailers, and create demand.
What changes, if any, do you expect to see in publishing in the next five years?
There will be more consolidation, Brexit will throw copyright and rights acquisitions in the air, and I expect American publishers will start to view the European Union as a market they can actively publish into. Authors, who have really suffered the most (along with booksellers) during this past decade, will demand and get a greater slice of earnings – or many will look to self-publish. There has been a renaissance in bookselling these past two years and I expect that to continue, though not always driven just by books. There will be a continual drift of content to digital formats – audio will grow, and enhanced ebooks may make a return. I don’t see readers falling out of love with reading, or book buyers falling out of love with print, but how the trade services those twin demands will obviously change.
As editor of the Bookseller, in your opinion what area is of most and least interest to publishers? Why do you think this is?
Publishers are most interested in content, because for all the fun we’ve had over the past few years re-thinking ‘the book’, what really matters to all publishing businesses is creating hits (big or small) and so far 99% of these have come from products that look like books. They are least interested in technology for now, but I suspect that will change as content and forms increasingly blur.
Catch Phillip’s full keynote speech on Friday 11th November 2016 Check out Publishing Ireland’s full programme for more details on the event and this year’s speakers. Tickets for the Trade Day 2016 are still available: www.eventbrite.ie. We look forward to seeing you all there.