Why publishers must know their raison d’Ítre for effective digital strategy

by Sabrina Uswak

Michael Bhaskar rewarded publishing students with a lively and insightful discussion into the transformation of the publishing landscape – taking us through the irreversible impact of ebooks on book sales, rights negotiations, author advances; their contribution to the astronomic rise of self-publishing and vertigo-inducing drops in digital book prices. In sum: ebooks utterly transformed the current publishing landscape, and we are still negotiating with those changes.

This historical introduction was key to a conversation on digital publishing strategy, because, as Bhaskar said ‘to understand the book market, you need to factor in the ebook market.’ The looming presence of Amazon over publishers’ ebook accounts alone justifies its conversational importance. Bhaskar warns the recent uptick of UK print sales and a plateau in ebook sales are no reasons to press pause on digital innovation. Publishers must wholly embrace digital and carry on taking risks with it: ‘you simply can’t launch something into a ferociously crowded market with half measures…either go in totally committed or don’t bother.’ One lone enthusiastic voice on a team isn’t enough – embracing digital experimentation must be rooted into the company culture, and the reasons for starting a project must be utterly clear-cut. This approach, Bhaskar said, led to his experience with notable successes in app innovation at Profile Books and Serpent’s Tail with Frankenstein and 80 Days, and carried him through his leap with co-founding Canelo. Bhaskar provided an insightful list of reasons as to why digital publishing start-ups or initiatives have such a high failure rate, and thus, important digital strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Price
    Publishers have to accept that prices in the digital world are really, really low: ‘people see apps for £4.99 or £9.99 as like spending £100 for a cup of coffee in the real world.’ The approach? Embrace it and be aggressive with your digital prices.
  2. Too much design by committee
    Not everything needs a written business case. New initiatives can get too bogged down by excessive oversight from management. Creating 80 Days was successful because the team was trusted, shared a pure vision, and cared about what they were doing.
  3. The buy-in from everyone has to be total
    IT companies have a clear raison d’être when it comes to digital. Failed attempts in digital publishing stem from over-complicating and not being distinctive enough. The competition is fierce, be on the offensive.
  4. Publishers are not the only effective storytellers out there
    The rise of the gaming industry as providers of narrative worlds to explore must be acknowledged – film and books can’t assume to hold that monopoly. There are exciting things to watch from this sector.

To stay robust and agile in a digital market, publishers need to dispense with fear, and take risks. Be ready and willing to ‘embrace failure’ Bhaskar says, ‘I do!’ 

About the author of this article

Sabrina is currently an MA digital publishing student from Calgary, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter @SabrinaUswak

Edited by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 14 Mar 2016 around 11am

Last edited: 31 05 2017