Publishing’s Digital Disruption Hasn’t Even Started

future-computer-digitalIMPERCEPTIBLE, INVISIBLE ALMOST, but it was there at the London Book Fair this year—publishers quietly clapping each other on the back and breathing a collective sigh of relief: Phew, thank goodness that ebook thing is over. Now let’s get back to real publishing.

I’m being a little facetious, of course. But this year’s trade show did see a genuine departure from the maelstrom of anxiety and excitement over the rapidly developing digital market that has dominated the last few fairs.

Most publishers seem to believe the worst is now over, that the industry has survived an inconvenient tsunami warning that turned out to be nothing but an unseasonably high tide.

But is the industry blind to the coming tempest? I certainly believe so.

The music industry thought that disruption was over by 2011 when their sales began to recover somewhat. Despite digital units accounting for 64% of music sales, the consensus was that the market had stabilized and was back to business as usual. Then in 2011 a Swedish start-up called Spotify launched in the U.S. After only four years in the mainstream, it now has over 15 million subscribers and 60 million active users. The Spotify business model has truly disrupted the music industry, with artists now looking at nontraditional ways of generating sales other than records as their staple income.

Any parallels for authors and books here?

That’s admittedly a question publishers are as tired of asking as trying to answer. But the important thing to note is that while a change in format initially affected business models, the streaming element brought about disruption in the music industry that has stubbornly staid put.

Likewise, for anyone to think that the digital disruption book publishing has experienced in the last few years is over or receding would be foolish in the extreme. In almost every other industry that has experienced disruption in recent times it has followed a very distinct pattern.

Perhaps the best example of a disruption process is one put forward by Steven Sinofsky, a former Microsoft President and Andreeson Horowitz board partner and investor. While Sinofsky writes primarily about the disruptive effects of technology on established industries and their incumbents, I think the framework he proposes is instructive for book publishing. >>READ MORE

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Source: Gareth Cuddy || Publisher’s Weekly || April 2015

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