As the number of available platforms and content streams increase, book publishers face many of the same issues as brand marketers. Richard Charkin, Executive Director of Bloomsbury UK, takes the pulse of the worldwide book industry.
For such a big man in the book industry, Richard Charkin has a tiny office. Tucked away in the eaves of the gigantic Georgian townhouse that Bloomsbury UK calls home, there's just enough room for a desk, a few shelves, a small coffee table and two chairs that look like they've been lifted straight from a 1970s school staff room.
The Executive Director of Bloomsbury Publishing, has been in the book industry since his first job in 1972 at the now defunct Harrap & Co. Having gone on to hold senior positions at Pergamon Press, Oxford University Press, Reed Elsevier and Macmillan, it's fair to say that he has first-hand knowledge of almost every major development in the book industry over the past four decades.
Like music in the early 2000s, book publishing is currently on the edge of a huge shift in its business model. The affordability of e-readers and their ability to download entire books in seconds has made the traditional publisher roles of packaging, manufacturing and distributing increasingly obsolete, while the influence of reader recommendations far outweighs traditional media reviews. Indeed, with self-publishing becoming a quick and easy way to get your book on the market, there's little need for a publisher at all.
So what can be done?
WHAT'S THE STORY?
Many of the issues testing the book publishing industry have equal relevance to the marketing and content industries. The rise of digital, global rights, the place of print, the role of the editor, reaching a target audience, raising awareness of a product, gathering a loyal customer base - all these are vital discussion points for anyone selling a product, whether that product is a 90,000-word bonkbuster or a new range of lawnmowers.
Like most content, a new book can be distributed through a number of channels. But while content creation and distribution can be a siloed process for a brand - each agency creating their own content to be distributed on their own platform - the book publishing industry has a refreshingly inclusive approach.
"There's no set number of distribution or marketing channels for each title," explains Richard. "But one thing we always hold is a launch meeting, where the book's editor will stand up and explain what the novel is about to everyone who has a role to play in selling the title."
So where next for the global book publishing industry? Undoubtedly, with e-readers coming down in price, the digital market is going to grow, which isn't great news for high-street stores. In America, around 20% of the largest publishers' sales are digital, with some new releases selling just as many digital copies as paper.
"In terms of the attention digital is getting within the industry, we probably are at tipping point," says Richard. "Clearly there will be far fewer retail outlets in the high street, but the development of digital makes it a really interesting time for publishers. There are constantly new people coming into the market, new terms to be negotiated, new business models. It's fascinating."
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