The next 5 years of publishing: jetpacks and hoverboards [OPINION]

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Lottie Chase. Lottie is the Sales Manager of Legend Press, a publisher passionate about championing new and high-profile authors and ensuring the book remains a product of beauty, enjoyment and fulfilment. She was the Chair of the Society of Young Publishers and has previously worked in export sales at both Walker Books and Quercus.

I once heard a story about a soft drinks company that claimed they didn’t just view other sodas as their competition, but any other activity that could be done instead of having a drink. I think we, as publishers, need to adopt that mentality. We are already no longer the number one pastime, books have taken second place to TV shows for years, tablets have meant swiping through photos is, for some, more attractive than browsing.

Although sales of both print and digital are both strong, I do see them diverging in the next few years. The digital market will continue to be dominated by low-cost mass market books, distributed by the few and large, whilst print books will have to get more creative with how they target their readerships.

For sales, that means we have to think of other avenues outside of bookshops to reach our customers. Non-traditional routes like coffee shops, galleries, pop-ups and theatres are among many other places that we should be targeting. Our Books & Beans campaign did just that: we teamed up with a range of independent coffee shops in our (then) local area of Shoreditch and they stocked our books, selling them on to their caffeine-fuelled customers. It doesn’t need to be an aggressively hard sell to someone enjoying a cup of coffee, we just needed to make it as easy as possible for anyone, at any one time, to buy a book.

Where other media is on offer, we need to be there too, in five years’ time we can’t be sitting on our laurels relying on bookshops to do the heavy work. High street bookshops no longer call the shots on what gets stocked, instead taking instructions from head office, something that will continue to be tightened and controlled. The Independents are being braver with their choices, making strategic decisions, like Dulwich Books’ recent sale to Susie Nicklin, paving the way for bookshops to be more business minded and, in turn, enabling them to be more daring in-store.

A recent report showed that 55% of us spend, on average, only 15 seconds looking at a website before clicking off. Just look how many camera angles The One Show uses to keep viewers from switching channels. Forget the elevator pitch, which takes too long – people are in a hurry. We’ve got to appeal to them and make them want to sit down and spend longer than 15 seconds reading a book. As far as attention goes, books are squeezed in between a three minute song and a two and a half hour film, so fear not, we are still in the running.

Books have always and will always be bought, reviewed, consumed and shared, something that we have come to rely on as an industry – but it’s the way in which each of these stages happen that continues to evolve and shift, pulling with it the tide of publishing trends. It might not be the jetpacks and hoverboards of the future that we were promised by Marty McFly, but it will be a very different landscape from the one we are currently so familiar with.

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