Digital publishing, yesterday and today

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Proliferation and specialization

While Amazon, including Audible, remains the dominant retailer for e-books and audiobooks, we are seeing the emergence of many new online retail platforms and business models.

Most of these start-ups focus on English content, but some of the more innovative ones might work well in Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and other widely used languages. English language businesses range from very specific entities serving the higher education market such as Perlego or Kortext and professional support such as nkoda supporting music and musicians. There are more general offerings for foodies like ckbk and for people with limited reading time like Germany-based book summary service Blinkist.

And of course, these companies and others can interact directly with authors, completely removing the role of the publisher. Substack has attracted prominent authors and generated significant income for some of them through their writing. And there are more traditional self-publishing sites for authors. It’s unclear to what extent these sites will absorb the revenue and energy of traditional publishers, but they have been a wake-up call for publishers to focus more on the value of the services they offer authors.

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

There is no doubt that listening to books, radio and podcasts online has increased and this growth is reflected in industry statistics. Audiobooks again saw double-digit sales growth in 2021 and continued growth for the 8th consecutive year. Along with this growth has come an appetite from retailers for exclusive and original content, much like what we see with video streaming players.

More recently, we have seen some interesting changes and developments in audio streaming and subscription platforms. Storytel saw 24% subscriber base growth in 2021 across 28 markets and will enter the US market with the acquisition of audiobooks.com. Meanwhile, Bookbeat’s user base grew 38% year-over-year, entering three new markets last year alone. And we’re waiting to see what happens with Spotify’s acquisition of Findaway.

While the revenue models represented by these services remain controversial to many, these programs and platforms are also important channels for reaching engaged and avid consumers and for fostering author and title discovery, common goals of publishers around the world. .

In all publishing professions, digital activity is the key to the future.

The problem, in my view, is not the lack of good ideas, but the difficulty of implementing those ideas, especially in large organizations where much of the senior management is naturally more comfortable reviewing the P&Ls of existing business units than supporting untested ideas in their cash-absorbing next stage.


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