Books and Publishing in the Digital Age
At the London Book Fair’s fifth annual Digital Minds Conference, keynote speaker Neil Gaiman encouraged publishers to take chances during this digital revolution:
People ask me what my predictions are for publishing and how digital is changing things and I tell them my only real prediction is that it’s all changing. Amazon, Google and all of those things probably aren’t the enemy. The enemy right now is simply refusing to understand that the world is changing… The model for tomorrow, and this is the model I’ve been using with enormous enthusiasm since I started blogging back in 2001, is to try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago…The truth is that whatever we make up is likely to be right . . . we are on the frontier, we can make up the rules, or break rules that no one has thought of yet.
Gaiman, the award-winning author of American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and The Sandman comics, is a digital media enthusiast who blogs, tweets, collaborates, and interacts with fans and writers. For Blackberry’s Keep Moving campaign, Gaiman collaborated with fans to produce A Calendar of Tales which featured illustrated versions of stories inspired by fans’ responses. Gaiman might not have immediately felt that his speech at the conference was a success, but the points that he made are those that the publishing industry should be listening to.
The push towards digital media is not the only major obstacle that the publishing history has endured in its brief history. In the 1920s the industry battled competing prices set by drug stores and Book of the Month clubs, and it faced the “paperback revolution” of the 1940s. Paperback prints were less expensive, distributed directly to customers, and introduced a new generation of authors who had not yet been published. The success of the paperback prints motivated publishers to sell their own versions alongside their hardback editions. The high quality of content and production helped the more established publishers maintain a standard that readers have since continued to expect.
The transition to digital caused a panic in the publishing industry as it witnessed book stores struggle to stay open, ebook sales steadily rise, and self-published authors make bestseller lists. While publishers initially resisted adopting digital media, more and more publishers have incorporated digital media and marketing into their business strategies. Selling products directly to the readers and fostering relationships with readers and writers through social media networks can certainly enrich a publisher’s success.
Taking risks by generating and supporting several new ideas could prove lucrative for the publishing industry. Whether it’s publishing and promoting new authors, creating their own line of ebooks, offering digital media book packages, or trying something entirely new and unheard of, publishers can take charge of their own future instead of being left behind in the service of another industry’s pursuits.