Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

07/24/2011

Books Are Morphing into Fluid Concepts in Cyberspace


Books As Fluid Concepts - The Old Meets The New

“Instead of being a discrete object, the book is becoming much more of a fluid concept, and there is opportunity in that transformation for those who want to discover it.”

This information is presented by Mathew Ingram through gigaom.com. The text sputters mucho links and references to drilled down background info that will bestow a PhD level of knowledge! Enjoy the post: 

What’s a book? It’s whatever you want it to be

As we’ve mentioned a number of times, the evolution of the book-publishing business has been accelerating recently, with more authors doing an end run around the traditional industry by self-publishing — or even setting up their own e-book stores, as Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling has done with her new Pottermore site. Now media companies seem to be showing an increasing interest in publishing their own e-books using content that they have already created, moves that are taking them into the growing market in between full-length books and magazine-style pieces.

The latest move in that direction comes from Ars Technica, which is part of the Conde Nast magazine empire that includes Wired magazine and The New Yorker. The technology blog, which has become well known for its exhaustive reviews of new Apple hardware and software by author and programmer John Siracusa, is offering its latest review — an in-depth look at Apple’s new operating system, code-named OS X “Lion” — as an e-book using the Kindle Single program. The book (which is really just a long magazine article) costs $5, and is more or less identical to the version that is on the Ars website.

Paying for convenience?

So why would someone want to pay $5 to read something that they could read for free on a website, or download via their browser and read offline via Read It Later or some other service? That’s a good question (Fortune tried something similar with a recent feature on Apple, but it wasn’t available online at all). Whatever the answer might be, Ars Technica editor Ken Fisher told the Nieman Journalism Lab on Friday that more than 3,000 people had decided to do just that within 24 hours of the review being available online. Said Fisher:

I was surprised by how many people told us they read the review online and they just wanted their own copy to go back to. Or they just bought it as a tip-jar kind of thing.

It may have helped that Siracusa’s review is a lot closer to being a book than it is just a regular review in an online magazine — it is more than 27,000 words in length, which is split up over 19 pages. That’s a lot of text to read on a website, and some readers said that they downloaded the Kindle single just to save themselves from having to read all those pages on a computer. Fisher said the magazine also saw some new users sign up for its $5-a-month premium subscription plan, which disables advertising and lets users download any of the magazine’s articles as PDFs.

Read and learn more

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12/30/2009

Analysing the Global Ranking of Publishers



This great annual ranking will open your eyes to who REALLY are the biggest publishers on the world-wide stage, who their subsidiaries are and who owns who!
Just click on the rankings image to view in larger size.

From Publishing Perspectives by Rüdiger Wischenbart:

For the past three years publishing consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart has released a “Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry,” which looks at companies with revenues over $US250 million. Here is his analysis of the latest ranking, focusing on how the changing dynamics between the professional/science, education and trade sectors have have affected this year’s ranking.

It is a strange world we live, read and publish in. Among the top ten global publishing groups, just five have a significant presence in trade books: UK’s Pearson (with its Penguin group), Germany’s Bertelsmann, of course (with Random House and the ever ailing “Club” business), France’s Hachette Livres (which is also a strong player in education), Spain’s Planeta (the new kid on the block, having gobbled up France’s #2, Editis), and Italy’s De Agostini. Oh, and by the way, they are all headquartered in Europe.

This being said, many companies in the rankings are doing much better, both economically and in terms of re-inventing themselves. While the Pearson group performs remarkably well in comparison to most of its peers, the real powerhouse seems to currently be Thomson (now Thomson Reuters), last year’s #1, and currently #3. It slipped to this position due to last year’s internal reorganization following its merger with Reuters, the result of moving a major stake of its old information business into the new, news driven Reuters division and of selling off “Thomson Learning”, which is performing well under the newly established brand of “Cengage” (#13 on the list). Thomson’s traditional publishing arm, in this perspective, is still good enough to rank it #3 on the global scale.

The story also demonstrates a much more fundamental lesson about how “the book industry” has completely reoriented itself within just a few years when it comes to handling “professional information” (which includes STM, science, journals, and a lot of other pragmatically useful content). Today, this wealth of information is born digital, distributed digitally, and is not available in any bookstore near you.

This “professional information” has become the primary load bearing column in what amounts to a new global temple of knowledge.

Accordingly these “knowledge groups” prefer generating four out of five dollars (or euros) from an integrated digital value chain. Digital subscriptions, they explain to their stockholders, because they’re often sold to institutions, bring in a consistent flow of revenue, and are a much better financial bet than struggling to sell a single book at a time to an individual reader.

This new era of digital integration is a bit more difficult to cope with if you’re an education publisher. Pearson Education has taught everyone the lesson of how to sell content plus branding plus distribution plus services (i.e. testing and scoring materials) on a global scale. Recently, the dream of selling education has been the catalyst for other mergers and acquisitions in the sector. But this has merely resulted in companies faced with huge debts and few sound and sustainable business models. This is why, at least for the moment, education is an unstable column in our new global temple.

That said, there is a new and interesting publishing terrain out there. It reminds one of the famous Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times,” which of course translates to unrest, uncertainty, famines, floods, and the like. It is important to note that in the field of education, the first major Asian global players have stomped into our temple of knowledge and proclaimed, “Here we are. We represent major markets with the potential for substantial growth, and, after having bought your content for quite a while now, we now want to play the game on a more level playing field!”

Companies like Korea’s Kyowon or China’s Higher Education Press have pretty strong arguments and opinions when it comes to “localizing” content (i.e. cultural adaptation) but also to the economics of it all. “We want to take our rightful place among you,” they are saying.

Only the third pillar of the temple — if we want to think of our industry in such classical patterns — is traditional “trade” publishing, or just plain books. Looking at the numbers among the global top 10 as well as further down the list, we see a steady decline in the revenues in trade. There has been no real drama as of yet; just a few percentage points falling off each year.

What’s interesting to point out is that a few ambitious winners can still be found in this otherwise flat environment. Penguin is pursuing a strong strategy, both at home and internationally, and has become the leading brand for global literature. There are also a few, new regional players vying for a larger role, including Planeta (as noted above), Denmark’s Egmont — which had a significant boost from Harry Potter, and has a significant presence in emerging genres like Manga and graphic novels — and Sweden’s Bonnier, which has substantial holdings in Germany. In this, Bonnier is like Holtzbrinck, Germany’s second largest group. They are less about bold growth and innovation than sustaining a relatively boring, if solid presence in the market.

So what is next? One thing is probably quite easy to predict: The combined forces of digital and economical change, together with globalization, will be hitting trade publishing sooner rather than later,that’s for sure. Couple this with the fact that people are now reading differently, for different purposes, in different contexts, and based on different economic rationales than was the case ten or even five years ago and we know something is about to occur.

What this means in detail is certainly more difficult to foresee. Take the example of professional (science) publishing. Wouldn’t consumers prefer to subscribe to a vast amount of (digital) reading that can be delivered online or via cable TV subscription for five dollars (or Euros) per month, rather than buying individual titles for a much higher price?

But what will happen if Internet or phone or cable TV providers consider reading as too small a niche to cater to? Or what if publishers balk at the idea of feeding their books into such pipelines? The likely outcome of that scenario is that trade publishing may be in for some serious trouble sooner than we think.

Some wise person once said that “making predictions is always a headache, particularly when it is about the future.” Which is why, for the moment, I can only offer a picture of the status quo, backed up by a few numbers, and with a history of a few years, at least, to illustrate a few trends. Digitization and globalization does not spell the end of publishing, or of books for that matter. But one thing is for certain: things won’t stay the same for long.

The “Global Ranking of the Publishing Industry” is an initiative of Livres Hebdo, Paris, researched by Ruediger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, and co-published with buchreport (Germany), The Bookseller (UK) and Publishers Weekly (US), with yearly updates since 2007.

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