Industry luminaries scry the spins ahead in the helter skelter revolution at the centre of their business
Anna Rafferty, Penguin digital managing director
“I predict more digital for publishers in 2014. I’m not being (completely) facetious, I mean more digitalness in all parts of the industry, not just in ebook product output. We’re going to be using all of the creepy/fun/incredibly clever targeted and personalised marketing opportunities that our connected lives now afford to the smart marketer to reach, and then truly delight, relevant readers.
“I’m fascinated by the explosion of the Quantified Self, enabled by digital technology, and love the idea of a personal Quantified Self reading-tracker-and-recommendation app – like a cross between Fitbit and Foursquare but with books. That would be fun. I’m also obsessed with Tumblr and the way it acts as a co-creation, self-publishing platform. Thousands of people are, usually collaboratively, producing a lot of short-form, episodic fiction and hundreds of thousands more are reading it. Is this the start of a new storytelling format? Actually, no – I used to write fan fiction consequences in school by passing notebooks around – but Tumblr allows this creativity to explode, making it very easy for readers and publishers to discover real talent and energy there; very interesting.
“In terms of massive digital bestsellers for 2014, look no further than Elizabeth Is Missing. It’s got everything lined up to be an enormous e (and p) smash; a thriller, on the literary side but with tremendous mass appeal and incredible word-of-mouth potential. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to talk about while you’re reading in a ‘share the gasps’, Sherlock-on, second-screen kind of way. Obviously these kinds of titles do incredibly well digitally as there’s no latency between receiving a breathless recommendation and your eager fingers turning (do we still say ‘turning’ on an ereader? I think so) the first page. It’s going to spread like its pixels are on fire.”
Dan Franklin, Random House UK digital publisher
“I just read that you have to do something six times before you start knowing what it is (point three of this post), which is useful because I’m going into my sixth year working in digital publishing. The key question of 2014 is: what do we do when digital publishing starts reaching maturity? And the answer must be, more of it: more experimenting, more risk-taking, and doing what we know works well again and again. Ebooks work well, as does short-form fiction and non-fiction, so let’s do more of that. What’s been challenging? Anything involving location-based storytelling, intrinsic and overt gamelike interactivity, augmented reality, and ‘born digital’ fiction. Although there are encouraging signs that when published well these experiments can be successful commercially – apps like DEVICE 6 and The Walk showed this at the end of last year. As such, 2014 has already seen the notion of ‘wearable technology’ creep into publishing conversations – expect it to remain at least talked-about for the remaining 12 months.
“This year I’m focusing on taking things away rather than adding them, stripped-down reading experiences: pure reading. We keep being told discoverability is a publisher problem, not a reader problem, but great publishing is predicated on the inner belief that no one knows what they really want until they’re introduced to it, so more than ever we need to develop strategies to do that. We’re on it. The pressures of a generation coming up who don’t care about owning ‘things’ will continue to be exerted on the industry, as we grapple with the question of access over ownership. But the future of reading itself belongs with one peer group: writers. 2014 must see digital publishers returning again and again to writers to inform them of creative possibilities and work with them and their agents to execute their ideas. It’s that simple, it’s that challenging and it’s that exciting!”
George Walkley, Hachette UK head of digital
2013 was another strong year for ebooks, with our digital sales reaching £70m, and though the rate of growth is beginning to slow, we still expect our digital business to grow by 10-15% in 2014. Seasonal sales of tablets and smartphones have been strong, and with many readers moving from single function e-readers to more capable, multi-function devices, the question is what effect this shift will have on reading habits. To a large extent, and particularly in the context of fiction, I believe that people will go on reading what they always have – ebook bestsellers have tended to be very similar to the print list as demand is consistent across formats. But in areas where multimedia or interactivity can genuinely add to the reader’s experience, many of them in non-fiction, there will be more opportunities for differentiated or innovative products such as our iPad edition of The World Atlas of Wine (Octopus), where the tablet format and touch interface really lend themselves to detailed cartography, slideshows of wine labels and some of the most sumptuous photography I’ve seen in an ebook.”
Henry Volans, head of Faber Digital
“I predict a move into the games arena from publishers in 2014. I’ll be watching two companies who sit across the fence. First up, Plain Vanilla is the Icelandic maker of the trivia phenomenon QuizUp. It will be fascinating to see who takes best advantage of the huge audience the app is building around a series of niches: who from the book world will best provide content and feed the fans’ conversations? Second, Simogo is a small Swedish games developer that works well with text; what it does should inspire imaginative publishers.
“Apple name-checked both of these companies when announcing total iPhone and iPad App Store revenues of $10bn (£600m) for 2013. There is money in the marketplace and I look forward to seeing publishers harness it. There was much talk in 2013 of template solutions to digital publishing which, while important, will struggle to make the impact of the best-tailored bespoke digital publishing. Meanwhile, platforms will work best when aimed at niche markets, as we learned with last year’s successful launch of Drama Online, made for higher education in partnership with Bloomsbury.
“Douglas Adams and John Lloyd’s The Meaning of Liff is a key Faber Digital project for 2014 – it’s our most inherently social app, and a gentle parody of the Californian social network(s). Equally central to our year will be Iain Pears’s Arcadia, most of all because it is among the first in what will be a growing trend for novelists to seek new expressions for their writing.”
Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow managing director
“The ebook market for children has been slow to grow, but ebooks aren’t the only way that children can read on-screen. As well as publishing print books and ebooks, we make highly interactive, award winning apps, so we are particularly interested in the opportunities to use digital devices to blur the edges between storytelling and games. In a way, this is something that great children’s books like Where’s Spot and The Very Hungry Caterpillar have done for young children for decades, but technology makes it possible to take playfulness further. Our next app, Jack and the Beanstalk, releasing in the next few weeks, is our most ‘gamified’ book app yet: the reader helps Jack complete tasks to him get back down the beanstalk with different objects. The happiness of the ending depends on the reader’s level of success in the tasks. It’s different each time and rewards success with more story.
“We think that educational use of tablets will increase: more than 40% of primary schools in the UK are using iPads now, with many adopting a ‘one-iPad-per-child’ approach. Several apps encourage children as creators too, and personalisation is one of the trends that we’d expect to see. MeBooks, with whom Nosy Crow is collaborating, provides a library of picture books to which children can add their own voice recordings, triggered by touching ‘hotspots’ on the screen that the children themselves create. So far, we haven’t yet seen an ebook subscription service for families or for schools that’s really caught on in the UK, but there are a number of contenders and it will be interesting to see if one of them breaks through.”