The last six months have seen a sea change in the publishing world’s attitudes to digital products. That’s not to say that e-books and digital delivery have in any way lost their momentum: sales continue to grow; new devices are launched; and new platforms and opportunities go on emerging. But much of the hype has gone away; and without it what are the more permanent lessons it has taught us about the future shape of the industry?
The best outcome is that publishers have learned that e-books are just one way of selling their content. Though they will continue to experiment with new digital formats, pricing models, apps and marketing techniques, most publishers have now established workflows which bring the e-book to market alongside the printed version. The catch-up of digitising backlist is probably mostly done.
But how much has the industry thought about what the impact of digital has been and is going to be in the future? How robust are the systems which have traditionally been used to manage printed book sales and which are now being pressed into service to manage the much more complex arrangements for selling e-books? How will rights and royalties systems cope with the growing volumes of transactions which the digital stage will create as licensing models become more prevalent? And how will managements make sense of all the inflows of data from multiple trading partners operating different business models? If digital grows as fast as it must if it is to contribute materially to revenues and profits, it is going to require a lot of change in the ways of doing business and the systems and processes which lie behind them.