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Reinventing the book: A future of growth, not of survival

By Peter Wolff

It is no revelation that how we consume content has fundamentally changed in the wake of ever-emerging platforms, both online and offline, that vie for our attention. For consumers, it’s all about personal preference in how and when information is received and, increasingly, the desire for more tailored content. For publishers, it is no longer an issue of process – creating and taking to market a 300-page book – it’s about thinking more strategically and adopting a consumer-driven mind-set to create more valuable content that reaches the right audience, in the right way.

This ultimately means publishers becoming more creative with content, and herein lies the opportunity for print service providers. What happens if the conversation with a publisher changes from primarily discussing the printing method for a piece of content, to changing the actual content itself?

Opening up a conversation around four key areas – services, channels, frequency and price – can provide opportunities for new revenue streams to emerge for publishers and printers alike, while positioning the printer as a valued, consultative, partner.

Services: communities of interest

Fan bases are possibly the most powerful advocates of any brand and the same is true when it comes to content. Specialist interest groups are attracted by more immersive experiences, such as opportunities to meet authors and join online forums to discuss topics with like-minded community members. Exploring how to target these groups with content that extends beyond the author’s original manuscript offers publishers a way to command greater royalties than that of the printed content in isolation. In real terms, an author can often make more money by giving a keynote speech than it can from minor sales of a niche title; therefore a publisher who spends time editing a specialist title and helping the author solely to build their brand (the book) is potentially missing out on much greater opportunities to add value through more experiential delivery models. 

Channels: added value by authors

Publishing models like crowd-funding, of which Kickstarter is a prime example, allow authors to publicise the concept of the book they intend to write and enables consumers to sign-up (and pay) in advance for a copy. In addition to purchasing the printed book, they can also pledge money through the online platform for things like a signed copy of the book or the chance to meet the author in person. This model not only starts to build engagement with the target audience before the book is launched, but also removes the financial risk of producing copies with no guaranteed sales. The social influencer model is now also underway, whereby those who have supported the development of the book persuade others to buy it in a retail outlet or online if and when it is published for the mass market. This example is a fusion of publishing models which helps to warm-up the market, create a fan base and remove financial risk.

Frequency: new business models

Membership and subscription-based models are a further avenue to explore in publishing, particularly in the area of business, where content may need to be updated regularly. By making online and offline platforms work in tandem, publishers can enable content that is time-sensitive to remain relevant, allowing readers to access updated information as part of an ongoing package. This may take the form of concise content in a printed book and an online component (perhaps an RSS feed) that, as a subscriber, allows you to access links to updated content. The music industry is a real-world example of how a subscription-based model can create more value for immersive experiences – paying a small amount on a regular basis to download tracks, while being prepared to pay a premium to attend concerts to see artists perform live.

This subscription model in the publishing world could also extend to a gift that allows the recipient to order a book on a regular basis and have it delivered to their door.

Price: enhancing the perceived value 

Premium edition books are becoming ever popular and represent an ideal way to engage a specialist audience and generate more revenue. Take a well-known (in his field) fishing vlogger for example, who wrote a book on his specialist topic and embarked on a joint promotion with a renowned industry printed magazine to reach target readers. The book was packaged as a premium title of which only 250 copies were printed and they sold for 200 each to avid readers. By using partner channels – as well as the content itself catering to a specialist audience – the book was able to command a higher price than would have been possible through conventional sales channels.

It may seem a strange notion, but when considering the future of the book, perhaps it is best not to think about it as simply a book. Instead, why not consider each manuscript as original content that can be brought to life in many ways, through many channels to reach and engage specific audiences. It is by inspiring publishers to adopt this lateral thinking that printers can, in turn, assist in the transformation of an industry that is often perceived to be in ‘survival mode’, to one that is optimistic and excited by the vast potential for growth. 

Peter Wolff, Head of Commercial Print Group, Canon Europe

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