How can the publishing industry remain relevant in the digital content age where everyone’s a publisher? Read on for our findings.

Author: Lauren Finnigan

Last week I attended an industry event that hosted people from in and around the world of book publishing who discussed industry insight and current trends.

Looking at the data it’s a mixed picture across Europe for book sales:

  • In 2018 UK physical book sales fell by 5.4%, ending a period of growth stretching back to at least 2014, but audiobook sales surged 43% to £69m[1].
  • The German figures for 2018 saw a more stable year after a poor 2017 with a very slight increase in sales of 0.1%[2].
  • In Italy figures were down slightly 4% after a healthy 5.8% increase in 2017. Physical books account for 69% of sales, and eBooks represent 5% of turnover.
  • Spain reported that 67.2% of the population read a book in 2018 and those who read eBooks read more than those reading physical books (13.2 per year compared to 11.2. per year)[3].

It’s inevitable that the huge variety of content we have at our fingertips makes readers more selective about their format.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to look at how the publishing industry can innovate with new approaches to content, evolving business models and better collaboration through communities – which was the main theme for the event. The aim was to see how publishers of all types of content and in various sectors could benefit from the power of people coming together with a common passion.

We heard from companies already maximising the strength of communities, for example an eSports team which sells out live sports venues to thousands of fans wanting to watch a computer game. Another example is a cooking brand whose magazine edition is still growing since it started in the early 1990s, alongside a TV show, three websites, an online cooking school, podcasts, YouTube videos and so on.

Through these examples it’s clear that digital formats alone aren’t the only way to connect humans effectively. Technology can be an enabler that links common interests and motivations, be that through characters fighting on a screen or sharing food recipes.

The element of shared experience is key. As Veronica Reyero Meal of human insight specialists Antropologia 2.0 explained in her presentation, “People like to exchange books. When you’re exchanging books you’re exchanging a part of your story and you are connecting through that book. People represent themselves through the books they read.”

Importantly for businesses, creating advocates through a collective can deliver commercial results. There are many examples of leading companies that have done this, like Air B&B and Glossier, the world’s fastest growing beauty business. And publishers can do this too.

But where to start? Get back to the essence of who you’re trying to reach as a brand owner or publisher. Break down barriers to your audience and listen to learn from them and have a dialogue with them. When you know what your consumer wants they will engage with any format that suits their personal preferences and makes them feel a part of that community.

[1] theguardian.com, 2019, New chapter? UK print book sales fall while audiobooks surge 43%

[2/3] internationalpublishers.org, 2019, Statistics Galore: European and International Publishing Figures Released

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