Digital Vision

Dean JohnsonDean Johnson (Creative Director at Brandwidth), with the help of his crystal ball, gives us six key digital publishing developments for 2011.

2010 has been an exciting year for publishing. If it hasn’t, then you’re not doing it right.

Twelve months ago, the publishing industry was playing a cautious waiting game. E-books needed some traction as the e-readers weren’t receiving universal love and affection. Apps were just apps – a mixture of games, social networks, business tools, news feeds, and novelty entertainment. Bookstores main threat came from online sales and Steve Jobs still (publicly) insisted no one was reading anymore.

Fast forward a full year and, at least from our perspective at Brandwidth, the market is booming. This was the year when creation preceded demand, and our team had fun priming the market through viral videos to prove that hunger existed for the as-yet-unreleased Apple tablet. We also hit the ground running with the launch of the ‘Guinness World Records: At Your Fingertips’ app on the same day the iPad hit the US streets. With 2011 looming, we have over 20 high-profile apps to launch in Q1, so as I rush around, please let me share some lessons and look into my crystal ball at six key digital publishing developments for the year ahead:

1.  Read it, sync it, consume it

More people reading in more locations on more devices means that the cloud concept will become reality. Any published content should be available to read seamlessly across smartphone, eBook reader, tablet, desktop Mac/PC and TV. Yes, TV – Google and Apple will both bring ‘books’ to screens wherever you are.

2. Digital authorship

Look out for authors turning the writing process on its head to maximise digital potential. Storytelling will have alternative routes and endings with room for personalisation and reader input. This doesn’t mean every book needs to be an adventure game, but expect the headlines to be about pioneering authors exploring the depth of the reading experience as well as the breadth.

3. Books and mortar

As long as there are consumers on a high street, there will be sales to be made in a retail environment. This means bookstores will diversify to survive, rather than continue to trade exclusively in physical books. If you can buy a hard copy on Amazon – a digital service, then the opposite should also be true – a digital book from a high street outlet. Ironically, with some independent e-book stores closing (ie Harper Collins), the spotlight is back on the strongest virtual and physical suppliers. Expect to see the balance change from coffee shops in bookstores to book concessions while you wait, drink and meet.

4. Android marches on

We’ll continue to see quantity over quality in the Android market as the unregulated marketplace grows with the increasing number of Android tablets available. We won’t see the hardware casualties until 2012 as manufacturers flood the market with digital reading devices, then those with the weakest business models flounder. Monetisation and delivery will continue to prove problematic for publishers wishing to leverage the Android platform.

5. iPad leapfrog

It’s iPhone-syndrome all over again. The arrival in 2011 of the raft of tablets from Samsung, Blackberry, HP & others shows the competition playing the same game of catch-up as the initial response to the launch of the iPhone. iPad2 will be with us in April, with a new thinner, lighter carbon-fibre outer shell all the bells and whistles offered by rivals (apart from Flash) plus a few Apple gems thrown in to make the competition kick themselves.

6. Rethink the book

In the same way that a film retains the storyline of a book but it isn’t a ‘moving book’ (it’s a film), apps will redefine both fiction and non-fiction and free storytelling and information structure from the confines of a cover.

The industry has focussed on e-books primarily but their limitations are all too apparent. Apps allow us to remove technical restrictions – they have the power to make a difference to how, what and why we read so 2011 is the year app-books (Bapps?) go mainstream.

Entry point

So, if that’s the changing shape of the publishing industry, where does that leave those in established positions or graduates looking to take their first step on the ladder?

All the traditional roles still exist to varying degrees. However, there will now be a digital slant to anything you tackle. You may not be on the front-line, developing the digital alternative to the bound hardcopy but your  knowledge needs to cover digital sales channels, online and in-app advertising, production boundaries, emergent technology and the bottom line… how much it all costs.

The publishing industry isn’t in decline, it’s expanding outwards to encompass marketing, technology and design roles that would previously have been at odds with the literary world. The key to understanding the rich blend of key positions and individuals is to utilise the free social networking opportunities now available to us all – either digitally, or face-to-face.

Twitter is an essential tool for learning the business. Follow the right mix of industry professionals and corporate news feeds, then complete the picture with your own digital presence – be that website, blog or LinkedIn profile. 2011 will still spring a few surprises, beyond my predictions so keeping up with the key players on Twitter will fill in the gaps.

A few digital publishing ‘celebs’ worth following would be:

 @R_Nash @draccah @jafurtado @MikeShatzkin @samatlounge @sdadich@ifbook @EdNawotka @KatMeyer @mikecane @NosyCrow @raffers… and one for luck @activrightbrain(that’s me).