By Stuart Green
Evolution of the book
First of all, publishers must evolve to meet the needs of a digital environment that demands rapid product evolution. Not only must they support new products such as enhanced e-books, but they also need to keep pace with trends such as the move towards interactive fiction and user driven stories. For example in 2013 the Random House-backed Black Crown Project immersed readers in a “gamified” environment where they were tasked with unravelling the mystery of the Black Crown through their own actions. This environment supported micro-payments to unlock additional content and story arcs and was backed by a big social integration campaign to get users interacting and exploring the content together.
To handle these new products and formats without incurring disproportionate cost, publishers need to secure the right production capability and integrate it with a flexible supply chain. This enables publishers to respond rapidly to both creative and consumer demand by reusing existing e-book elements in new products or triggering new product creation on demand.
Associating one book intelligently with another and making that information available to consumers could be lucrative. Metadata plays a vital role here by associating descriptive data with each text. This makes books searchable and discoverable, enhancing the retail and consumer experience. However this metadata explosion requires careful navigation as a sizeable chunk of it is either inaccurate or missing, while the ever-increasing volume of data presents logistical difficulties.
Publishers face the challenge of having to accurately capture, identify and describe the content they own; define the usage rights and ways to monetise the content; cleanse metadata and populate missing information; tag and enrich it to enable search and recommendation; and make all this available to retail partners. The data must then be updated regularly and reflect any changes in rights or commercial rules.
The starting point here is a scalable metadata repository coupled with a disciplined process around input data. Over time, this could be extended by exposing content through APIs and empowering third-party developers to create new services to make content discoverable. The resulting big data engine could be a game changer for publishers.
Competition for the author
The unprecedented range of tools and services that help authors go it alone has raised the stakes for publishing houses as the option to self-publish commercially is now a viable one. These services not only enable authors to receive detailed reporting of how their books are performing in terms of sales, regions and customer profiles, but they also increasingly offer marketing tools to help authors promote their work.
Technology can help publishers reassert their value proposition by providing greater pricing and campaign visibility, near real-time sales volume reports, business intelligence and advanced royalty accounting. Publishers are also helping authors to connect directly with their readers, for example through community engagement sites, competitions and author bookstores. If publishers can combine these enhanced ecapabilities and innovations with their traditional strengths in content acquisition, editing and marketing they will continue to attract writing talent and retain their position in the value chain.
Digital has brought innovation in commercial models to the publishing industry. The download-to-own model is likely to be here for the medium term, although several subscription models have also emerged and are gaining traction with the major publishers, as evidenced by HarperCollins’ recent deal with Oyster in North America for its backlist. At the same time, advertising-funded models are providing free e-books with highly targeted advertisements embedded. Other publishers are experimenting by selling e-books in slices such as chapters for travel books.
All these models require the publisher to have an extensive view of commercial rights and sophisticated reporting capabilities. To exploit rights in a variety of business models concurrently, publishers need to have a clear view of the rights attached to various product components, and be able to track and report on their usage. As the market matures, publishers will require a platform that automatically matches a huge range of product rights with an expanding number of retailer profiles. For example, can this product be ‘chapterised’ and can that be applied in Germany in a streaming model service for three months on an exclusive basis?
As digital publishing expands, so does the volume of data available to publishers. There are two main forms of data—supply chain and consumer—and both are growing rapidly. Across the supply chain, publishers have the opportunity to build competitive advantage by applying business intelligence, using post-distribution visibility tools for on-sale monitoring, price monitoring, performance history and merchandise placement. By tracking these elements, publishers can enforce the terms of their arrangements with retailers and make near real-time changes to commercial decision making to capture lost revenue.
Meanwhile, consumer data gathered through retailers and social media offers invaluable insights into reading habits and consumer behaviour. Publishers also have the option to create a consumer-facing environment of their own in which they can collect – and act on – data, using consumer analytics and customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities. HarperCollins, for example, recently started selling e-books directly to consumers through the launch of http://www.CSLewis.com and http://www.Narnia.com. The data collected can be used to attract the best talent, shape content, help market that content more effectively and bring consumer digital interaction to the forefront of publishers’ operations.
The message to publishers is clear – embrace the shift to digital and take advantage of new technologies to enhance your capabilities and keep pace with customer demands. Like many industries, publishing faces a number of challenges and new complexities in the digital age; however, those players that take the right steps to transform themselves into digital, consumer-centric companies with a flexible and transparent production, distribution and reporting environment will be well-positioned to seize opportunities for growth in this increasingly competitive market.
About the author
Stuart Green is a senior manager in Accenture’s Media & Entertainment industry group.
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with approximately 275,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. Combining unparalleled experience, comprehensive capabilities across all industries and business functions, and extensive research on the world’s most successful companies, Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. The company generated net revenues of US$28.6 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2013.