Digital dilemmas: think like a reader

This has been quite a week for the Australian publishing industry, with the Revolution in Digital Publishing seminars held in Melbourne on Monday and Sydney on Wednesday, and additional ‘digital chat’ sessions with special guests on the Tuesday and Thursday morning in each city. (You can read our Weekly Book Newsletter reports here and here and see what the Twitterverse was saying here.)

All the events have attracted hundreds of delegates—the Melbourne session that I attended filled the State Library’s auditorium to standing room (well, for the morning keynotes—Faber’s Stephen Page and Bloomsbury’s Richard Charkin, pictured—at least …)

These days were organized under the aegis of the Australian Publishers Association’s excellent professional training program, so it’s not surprising—and is right and proper—that the focus was on informing *publishers* about how digitisation is rapidly changing their world.

But considered from a wider book industry point of view, it was disappointing how little consideration was given to retailers, readers and authors, and how much of the talk was about reassuring publishers that digital was ‘same but different’—it’s just another format, it will operate within existing territorial copyright conditions, it won’t change rights sales, etc.

There was a real need for a contrary voice on the program, someone with radically different opinions on digital rights management (DRM); the future of copyright; and the rapidly changing relationships between creators, publishers, retailers and readers.

We all need to take off our ‘safeguard the future of the book industry’ goggles for a minute and think of things from a consumer’s perspective: for example, from an ebook buyer’s point of view geographical restrictions on ebooks seem ludicrous—it may be deemed necessary by the industry, but if it is we have to explain it much, much better. Or even better, we have to move very, very quickly to make these current barriers invisible to consumers: get the rights issues sorted out so we can offer as much multinational digital content as possible to readers—and not only international titles to Australian readers, but Australian titles to an international online audience.

[edit: see what Sydney independent bookseller Jon Page has to say abought the same event/s at his blog]

4 thoughts on “Digital dilemmas: think like a reader

  1. You know, I can’t download the latest series of True Blood from the US because of territorial rights. Why should the book industry be different from other media that imposes geographical restrictions?

  2. we have to move very, very quickly to make these current barriers invisible to consumers: get the rights issues sorted out so we can offer as much multinational digital content as possible to readers—and not only international titles to Australian readers, but Australian titles to an international online audience.

    This, exactly. Were there any representatives from e-only publishers? It seems to me (from the tweets and articles I read) that there was a big focus on e-publishing models for the big traditional publishers, but what about opportunities for smaller independent publishers?

  3. @Joanna The book industry shouldn’t be different: they’re all abusing their customers.

    Grab yourself a proxy server subscription (e.g. Anonymizer.com) and download untill your heart is content.

  4. @Robert Collings, typical, but not overly helpful response. As a consumer, I feel your pain, but as someone within the industry, it’s really a tough call to completely do away with physical geography, especially as so much of our business is still in the sale of physical books, especially here in Australia. People often compare the copyright industries, sometimes this is useful, sometimes it’s not.

    I can’t comment for every publisher, but to give you some idea as to where we’re at, for example, our single ebook, The Happiness Trap, has been purchased (for $12.99) a total of 12 times since it was made available in 2008.

    By comparison, we have sold the physical rights in 20+ countries and have sold about 25,000 copies in the Australian market (at $29.99 a copy). So you can see, it’s really not a huge part of the traditional publisher’s market yet.

    This is not to say we’re not excited about ‘e’, and we’re busily converting our titles, about 25 of which will be available on Kindle and on our website in early March, with more to come. We’re also looking into iPhone apps for our lifestyle titles. We’re excited, and hope consumers will buy our books and get excited about e-reading too. The geography thing will work itself out, my huge concern is that the US/UK will become the ‘gatekeepers’ of the digital publishing world (iBooks and its predecessors), as has largely happened on the ‘Net in terms of blogs and websites, but I hold faith in the inherent democratic nature of the ‘Net, and as long as we produce good content, consumers will buy it and we’ll be able to keep on keeping on…

    But at this early stage, it’s got to be business as usual in many ways. The inevitable rise of e-books is going to be huge for the industry, and I know a lot of publishers are aware of the limitations of the way we currently roll, just as consumers are…there’ll be no quick fix, just a lot of trial and error and the best business models will prevail.

    And to the B&P team, promise to stop commenting on your blog now!

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