Publishing in the year 2020

What will be happening to books 10 years from now and what will that mean for authors and publishers?

Those were the questions put to a panel of experts at the London Book Fair. Future-gazing is always tricky, but some conclusions emerged. The traditional ‘linear’ model of publishing: author delivers manuscript to agent or editor, the publisher develops it into a book, sells it to the retailer who sells it to the consumer – is going to change.

Consumers are taking control of their content needs, be that for e-books, audio books delivered to iPods, content downloads to smartphones or a £300 limited-edition gold encrusted hardback signed by the author. The way a book is made (a nicely portable 300 to 500 pages) will no longer dictate how content is provided. Authors need to view themselves as multimedia content creators distributing through multi-channels (see author Paulo Coelho’s website for a good example of this). And publishers need to take the same view.

The digital world offers publishers and consumers an opportunity to enter into a direct relationship. Aspiring authors should check out Authonomy from HarperCollins. It’s still in beta, has had no major advertising, yet 4,500 manuscripts are posted. It allows authors to showcase their work and critique the work of others. The first books are being published from this (see the Authonomy blog entry on publishing contracts).

A recent release of 100 classic e-book collections for the Nintendo DS, has allowed a publisher to reach 14-25 year olds who are not currently reading classic fiction.

The mobile internet market offers tremendous content opportunities. There are 200 million smart phones in existence. By 2012 it is predicted there will be 2 billion. Time to start delivering shorter, punchier, serialised story lines for easy consumption by this format perhaps? Worth some serious thought…

So digital offers opportunities to reach new markets with different content offerings, but will it replace the book? The view of the panel was ‘no’, TV didn’t replace radio and all the usual analogies, but some areas of publishing (encyclopedias and maps) have been eroded. But there are some exciting times for authors and publishers to come.

Jenny Ridout

(Publisher, Methuen Drama, Media and Reference, A&C Black)

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