The future is digital, but where’s the money?

With music companies finding their market has disappeared, newspapers giving away their content for free (and finding the ad revenue siphoned off by Google) and the film and broadcasting industry facing increasing piracy – what hope is there for the publishing industry?

There is opportunity there, it turned out, as four CEOs and the BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas took centre stage in discussions at the London Book Fair seminar Digital Publishing – Where’s the money? .

Digital access is at a turning point for the industry. Thousands of e-books are available, the Sony e-book reader is making strides in screen-reading technology and Amazon Kindle is offering wireless access, opening up an impulse purchase market. E-readers are in their infancy, but what might it be like once the design quality improves, they become more tactile, you could bend them or fold one up in your pocket?

Yet despite this, the e-book market is predicted to grow to just 5 per cent of the overall revenue stream in 5 years time. So what is all the fuss about?

Well, a land grab is happening as publishers try to maintain control of their intellectual property in a digital landscape. Digital content is fine, but we still want people to pay for it. Publishers are taking a zero-tolerance stance on piracy. Yet it is hard to police, the website Scribd is a case in point. Scribd is the You Tube of the document world and it’s ringing a few alarm bells in publishing boardrooms across the land.

Publishers will need to engage with the Scribd community in order to harness its advantage. Unauthorised material has been uploaded and despite the site working to take it down, this is hard in practice. With an audience of 50 million readers and 50,000 writings posted daily for free download, Scribd is an immensely powerful and intelligently managed channel. There is clearly a promotional opportunity, but we can’t let digital content be devalued in the same way as the music industry in the process.

Jenny Ridout

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

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