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future of publishing

“The future of publishing is in your hands” – coding for all [EVENT]

Abbie Headon runs Abbie Headon Publishing Services, and offers a range of skills including writing, editing and commissioning, alongside social media, website development and publishing management. She champions fresh approaches to solving the industry’s challenges and can be found mingling at most publishing events. Abbie’s also BookMachine’s Commissioning Editor and sits on the BookMachine Editorial Board

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Tech in Publishing

It’s about seeing the future: The 3rd Future of Media and Publishing Meetup, Bibblio

Francesca Zunino Harper is a linguist, translator, and publishing professional. She worked in the British and international academia researching on comparative literatures,  translation, and women’s and environmental humanities for several years. She now works in the Humanities and Social Sciences area of publishing. You can follow her @ZuninoFrancesca.

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Only connect: The publisher’s role in helping ideas spread

Nigel Wilcockson, head of Random House Business Books, recognizes three categories of business books:

‘There is the management strategy book, which is what people think of straight away when they think of business books… you’re trying to get across ideas that may be relatively common currency but you’re finding a fresh way of putting them across.

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FutureBook … or FutureRead? Fostering the next generation of readers

Sheila Bounford has worked in service businesses connected to the publishing industry for thirty years. A former Executive Director of the IPG, Head of Business Development at NBNi, and mentor to independent publishers, she is currently teaching English to secondary school pupils as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme.

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Print’s not dead, so what’s next for it? [Winning blog idea March]

Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. March’s winner was Percie Edgeler who writes about the future of the print book. 

For the past few years, there has been a rallying cry around the advent of the ebook: print is dead. Since 2015 however there has been a decline in ebook sales, and whilst some are predicting a return to steady growth, one has to question if this is possible whilst they continue to maintain the same format. Currently the big five are taking relatively few risks, and independent publishers have been spearheading a print revival which with the increase in print book sales has paid off. For consumers that are continually choosing both, the roles of the digital and the physical have changed.

Whilst the book industry is focusing on the colouring in fad to boost their sales, the magazine industry is increasingly taking risks to innovate their approach to print. At the same time as The Bookseller showed a 3% decrease in e-book sales in 2016, the magazine industry saw a 12.5% digital drop, with well-known brands such as BBC Good Food, National Geographic and Cosmo taking the biggest hit. In comparison, independent print magazines are growing. At QVED 2014, Jeremy Leslie of MagCulture addressed the issue directly when being asked about the death of print, retorting to a questioner “How can print be dead with such an abundance of independent titles flourishing day to day?”

The industry does indeed seem to be flourishing: the founding of new titles such as the aptly named Print Isn’t Dead and growth of existing independents such as Little White Lies and Oh Comely all seem to be positive signs.

But why are these independent magazines seeing a boom, and can the print book industry follow suit?

Some publishers already are, with part of the attraction being premium content and production value. These two key components can be seen in the popular UK independent Nobrow Press, who expanded to open a New York office in 2013. Their highly illustrated books continue to gain popularity for having an emphasis on design and illustration whilst remaining affordable. These editions are a stand out in an age where the internet does throwaway information for free and at high speed.

This in itself may kill some kinds of print. Ruth Jamieson, author of Print is Dead, Long Live Print, stipulated last year that digital media has cleared the way for a new, much more interesting, much more exciting print to spring up. In 2014, this decision to carefully curate high-quality content also paid off for independent New York magazine PAPER, who had to print an extra 35,000 copies of their September 2014 issue to keep up with the demand for the latest issue featuring Kim Kardashian.

In the words of I-D editor Colin Crummy, “Kim Kardashian’s bum may have broken the internet in November 2014, but it was a magazine cover that helped her do it.”

Despite this, some still seem to think that despite current high sales, print is simply enjoying a brief rebirth and as such the future for it is not so bright. Print hasn’t changed enough to compete with the behemoth of the e-book. Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House, stated the same year in the Creative UK report that our creative industries are at the centre of a digital transformation of our economy; predicting that ebooks would become a total of 35% of the market share in two years. Whilst this has not happened, some remain hopeful that they will return to growth, but this is not happening as quickly as expected. It may be that what becomes interesting is behaviour towards the print and digital changing so that the two are sitting together; and how as an industry, publishing continues to allow new innovation for both.

It’s time to change the nature of the conversation around print. Ebooks are a new medium, not the death of the traditional. Instead of asking if print is dead, we should be questioning what we can do with it next.

Percie Edgeler is a MA Publishing student at Kingston University, and a graduate of the BA Illustration course at Camberwell College of Arts where she gained first hand experience in producing different types of print. She is particularly interested in independent publishing, and how this sector will influence the future of print books.

Creative collaboration & the future of publishing [EVENT]

Many of you know whitefox, a popular publishing services agency for publishers, agents, authors and brands. BookMachine and whitefox have been plotting ways to celebrate their 5th birthday party – and here we have it, an event to discuss creative collaboration & the future of publishing. 

Writers, agents, publishers and institutional brands are all grappling with the same dilemma: how to produce high-quality books and state of the art digital content whilst at the same time judiciously managing their costs. Project management includes multiple internal and external connections and skillsets.

Take a glimpse into the crystal ball of publishing with three experts and understand how the ever-evolving role of creative collaboration will affect all of us in the future.

whitefox will be celebrating with drinks for everyone after the talks.

Click here for more information and to book tickets. This event is free to attend for BookMachine Members.

10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

Yesterday I discovered I’d been shortlisted for the Women in Publishing Pandora prize for ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’. By the time you may read this either Kate Wilson (MD of Nosy Crow) or Justine Solomons (founder of Byte the Book), my fellow shortlistees and true titans of the industry, will have scooped the award, but they can’t take this away from me.

It did get me thinking, though, that use of the word ‘sustained’. It’s code I suppose for ‘been around a while’ (and of course I have: 25 years in the industry, no less, as author, bookseller and publisher). Which prompted me to remember how much has changed in that time. Here are 10 things that used to be part of a publisher’s day that millennials will find hard to imagine…

1) Ozalids

These were the very last set of proofs, created from the negatives used to make the plates for printing the book. They were absolutely toxic – light-sensitive paper coated in chemicals that reeked of burning ammonia. I remember feeling sick the first time I had to check them, but the smell grew on you, which in retrospect was probably quite a dangerous sign.

2) The NBA

Once upon a time, way back, before 1995, there was a thing called the Net Book Agreement, which meant that the publisher would set the price for a book and that WAS the price, no matter where that book was sold. Small independent bookstores could thrive alongside supermarkets and chains with bulk buying power, and authors received a decent royalty on every sale. It was of course hopelessly anti-competitive and doomed. Still, it was nice while it lasted.

3) Creating p&ls by hand

When I arrived at Oxford University Press in 1997, my predecessor Alysoun Owen had left a detailed set of handover notes including a printed ‘Pub 1’ template – a basic p&l for a book showing gross margin/profit over initial printing and one reprint – and instructions on how to complete it. ‘You can do this in Excel,’ she had noted, ‘but I strongly recommend doing a few by hand so you understand how it all works.’ It was superb advice. As with all technology, spreadsheets are great servants but terrible masters if you don’t know what’s going on under the hood.

4) Clipping newspapers

My very first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant with W & R Chambers in Edinburgh, publishers of the Chambers Biographical Dictionary. And my early contribution to that august reference work was to spend day after day in a basement room, cutting out, photocopying and filing obituaries from The Times. I still have an encyclopedic knowledge of public figures who died in 1992. Morbid, but character-building.

5) In-house checking

OUP used to have a whole corridor of desk editors. During my time at Reader’s Digest our team was assigned a dedicated fact-checker, who would crawl over and verify every statistic and statement for accuracy. This was the pre-post-truth era, of course, when we thought facts and accuracy mattered. Seems quaint now, don’t it?

6) Multiple bookshop chains

It didn’t used to be just Waterstones (or Waterstone’s, as it was then), WHSmith and The Works on the high street. In the pre-Amazon days there were Hammicks, Sherratt & Hughes, Dillons, James Thin, John Menzies, Ottakars, Books Etc and probably others that I’ve forgotten. Plus at least one good indie bookshop in each town. It was fab.

7) Manuscript delivery by cardboard box

Twenty years ago when a manuscript arrived in house, you knew about it. Authors had to submit two double-spaced typed copies, with lots of space for that in-house copy-editor to make their corrections and query those facts, along with a floppy disk containing the manuscript in a form you might or might not be able to access: Microsoft Works, anyone? I remember the glorious moment at OUP when Alan Davidson delivered the manuscript of the monumental Oxford Companion to Food unannounced and nearly 20 years late: he, his wife and his son each carrying an enormous cardboard box proudly in procession. An email attachment or WeTransfer link just doesn’t have the same sense of occasion.

8) Visiting art galleries

There was a time when if you wanted to find just the right picture for your book cover, picture research involved actually getting up and going to a likely gallery or archive and browsing the collection. This of course took a terrible amount of time – but it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

9) Losing your entire manuscript in a power cut

When I wrote my first book, using the Apple Macs in Edinburgh University library because I didn’t own a computer of my own, there was no such thing as ‘autosave’. So when my (then) boyfriend stretched out his legs at the next workstation and accidentally kicked the plug out of the power socket and the whole spine of computers switched off, I lost around 4 hours’ work. The person next to me hadn’t saved their thesis at all and lost the lot. Oops.

10) The single-track career

I joined as an editorial assistant, and dutifully worked my way up through the roles of assistant editor and editor to publisher. And then, suddenly, all bets were off. I skilled up in computing and became head of digital development, got an MBA and became director of innovation strategy. If I had my time again I’d seek out roles in marketing and sales (although I’m making up for that now as an independent publisher). There is no one route through the ranks these days, and no expectation or even preference that high performers will focus exclusively in one functional area (editorial, sales and marketing are particularly fluid).

As the world and our industry become more complex, our greatest capabilities are not our functional skills and experience – valuable though these are – but our ability to learn, unlearn, relearn, adapt and flex. In 5 years’ time you’ll be able to write your own list of 10 things that used to feature in your day-to-day publishing work but don’t any more. Stay curious and enjoy the ride.

membership economyAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com

2016 Trend Report: What publishers need to know

The Future Today Institute has created a terrific, free report summarizing key technology trends and what they mean for tomorrow. I’ve embedded the report below so you can quickly flip through it.

I read the whole report and highlighted the most noteworthy elements for publishers below. That leads me (once again) to the topic of curation, a very important (current and) future publishing trend. Curation is becoming as important as creation, especially as we’re bombarded with more information than we can possibly consume.

As you read through my curated list below, with slide numbers in parenthesis, be sure to look at each item through the lens of publishing. How will each one of these affect how your content is discovered, acquired and consumed in the future?


(Slide 15) – This type of automation will be combined with other emerging technologies, leading to things like highly customized audio learning platforms where the UI is totally voice-controlled (see SVPAs below).

Natural Language Generation

(Slide 17) – I’ve written before about Narrative Science and I’m confident we’ll see more and more algorithmically-generated content in the future.

Smart Virtual Personal Assistants, or SVPAs

(Slide 22) – Alexa is the one I use every day when interacting with my Amazon Tap device. Expect this one to evolve quickly as today’s functionality will be considered very primitive in a year or so.

Ambient Proximity

(Slide 23) – Beacons haven’t taken off yet but they represent such an interesting opportunity. Think of all the interesting things your local bookstore could do with beacons and promotional content.


(Slide 25) – Despite the lame name, this one will have a significant impact on the ongoing evolution of content presentation, especially when married to beacons and additional knowledge of the user’s current state.


(Slide 36) – Up to now, creators of user-generated content seem more interested in visibility than compensation, but how long will that be the case?

One-to-few Publishing

(Slide 39) – Podcasts are dead, right? No, in fact there’s a significant opportunity in smaller, more tightly-focused audiences. This market concentration likely leads to higher subscription prices and/or advertising rates.

Intentional Rabbit Holes

(Slide 42) – Great concept that’s all about deeper engagement. What services can you add to your site or content to encourage readers to take a deeper dive and perhaps expose them to additional monetization opportunities?

Augmented Reality

(Slide 52) – It’s been around for a while but was only recently legitimized by Pokemon Go. Think of all the ways your content could be augmented via tools like Layar, for example.

Internet of X

(Slide 63) – Let’s say you’re a publisher of architecture books and other short-form content about design and construction. What’s preventing you from creating The Internet of Architecture?

Each of these are on different timelines, of course, and won’t affect content at the same moment. All of them, however, are likely to have a profound impact on just about every type of content in the next few years.

2016 Tech Trends from the Future Today Institute (formerly Webbmedia Group Digital Strategy) from Future Today Institute (formerly Webbmedia Group)

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

Here’s where innovative publishers need to focus

There are a number of key attributes successful publishers will be known for in the future. These core capabilities will be very different from the ones that have led to the modern empires of the Big Five.

Some attributes will remain the same, of course. For example, it will always be crucial for publishers to acquire, develop and produce excellent content. But the services and capabilities that surround and complement the acquire/develop/produce core are what will matter most.

With that in mind, here’s my short list of what will separate tomorrow’s publishing leaders from all the rest:

1) Being data-driven

Remember the old days when Ingram data was the only source of industry-wide sell-through information? Then Bookscan hit the scene and it felt like we moved from the Stone Age to the Information Age. I’m not talking about this kind of data. Bookscan and other retailer sell-through numbers are lagging indicators. They represent what happened yesterday, last week or last month. The successful publisher of tomorrow wants to know what’s happening right now and where the trends are leading. Real-time website analytics, heat maps, email open/click-thru rates…that’s where the actionable data can be found today but most book publishers treat them as secondary information sources at best. A publisher who thinks they’re data-driven today might adjust plans for a book scheduled to publish six months from now based on sell-through data they studied from last month. Tomorrow’s data-driven publisher will alter the free content on their website this afternoon based on information they gathered this morning.

2) Breaking free of containers

Why are publishers focused on lagging indicators? Because they’re stuck in the era of containers. They’re producing books, magazines or newspapers and they measure everything based on those containers. It may not be obvious but the container model is slowly fading away. Please don’t misinterpret this. I’m not saying books are going away. Print books will still be produced for a long, long time. But the way content is being consumed is shifting to a more digital, container-less model. Think about that last bit of content you read on your phone. Did you care whether it was originally produced for a newspaper, a magazine, a blog, a website or a newsletter? Probably not. What mattered most is that the content covered a topic that matters to you. Innovative publishers need to think more about highly relevant content streams rather than content containers.

3) Direct-to-consumer (D2C)

I vividly recall talking five years ago with a Big Six executive about the importance of creating a vibrant direct-to-consumer channel. She rolled her eyes and said they’d never do that because they prefer to let their retail partners handle the consumer connection. I feel somewhat validated now as I see that same publisher experimenting more and more with D2C. It’s not just about capturing all the revenue. The data and resulting opportunities to do some very powerful things with that data are what make D2C such an important model. That, and the fact that you become less reliant on middlemen who control your destiny, ought to be reason enough to focus on D2C.

4) Owning and leveraging the list

The most important piece of data every publisher should own is the customer name and email address. This is what makes D2C so special. Securing names and emails isn’t as easy as simply making a sale. You’ve got to earn the consumer’s trust by having them opt in to your future marketing campaigns. Too many publishers who have built a D2C channel simply become data hoarders, gathering names and emails but never doing much with them.

5) Building the funnel

One of the biggest reasons publishers don’t go direct is that they feel they’re unable to attract enough traffic to make it worthwhile. That’s because they’re not applying the funnel model. You start by offering plenty of outstanding free content on your site. Once visitors arrive and they like what they read you have the opportunity to connect with them via free newsletters, for example; rather than waiting and hoping they come back, offer to continue sending outstanding content right to their email inbox. Part of this step includes asking them to opt in for other offers and information from you. As the funnel narrows from top to bottom, you’re leading these consumers along a path loaded with all your terrific content, some of it free and some of it paid.

This isn’t for everyone. For example, the Big Five are simply too reliant on the existing ecosystem, unwilling to risk alienating certain channel partners and built upon a very rigid container-based creation and distribution model. The Big Five will remain large, just like B&N and Borders did for many years after Amazon arrived. But then Borders went away and in order to survive B&N evolved from a bookstore to a gift shop.

The smaller players though, the ones who focus on a particular topic, vertical or audience are the publishers who are best positioned to embrace the attributes described above. And as they do they’ll find themselves in a far better world with a direct connection to customers and the ability to serve those customers with more than just one or two types of container-driven content.

Joe WikertJoe Wikert is director of strategy and business development at Olive Software. This post was originally published on his blog, ‘Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies‘, where he writes opinion pieces on the rich content future of publishing.

membership economy

The next 5 years of publishing: Alison Jones interview

On the 8th June we’re launching the third title in the Snapshots series, BookMachine on publishing: the next 5 years, with a free event in four cities. Here Allison Williams interviews one of our speakers from the London event, Alison Jones on current publishing trends and predictions.

1) What are current trends and predictions that excite you most about the future of the publishing industry?

I’m enjoying the social reading developments from players such as GoodReads and Wattpad, which empower authors and readers (and to a lesser extend publishers) to build excitement and engagement around books. I expect to see this model extend beyond its home in genre fiction into other areas, particularly non-fiction. For publishers specifically, I think the trend of partnering intelligently, bringing the content and publishing expertise that brands so desperately need to partners who have the reach and funds the publishers in turn need, is exciting: in the attention economy, we’re stronger when we work together.

2) What is the trend or prediction that scares you most about the future of the publishing industry?

Amazon’s dominance, particularly in the UK where it controls c.90% of the ebook market, still worries me, and as I write Waterstones has just followed most of the other players out of the arena leaving Kobo the last challenger standing. I don’t think many publishers are comfortable with the fact that the ebook market in effectively owned by secretive company for which books aren’t even a main source of revenue any more.

3) How do you think we can best combat that trend or prediction?

There are many interesting experiments going on with direct and social selling (I love Aer.io), new subscription models for libraries and individuals (particularly digital audio), so I don’t think the game’s over yet. For publishers, I think it’s essential to build a direct-to-consumer stream and find the right partners or activities to help build that – your customer’s data is more valuable than any one sale to that customer.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see the publishing industry start doing in the next 5 years?

Some have already started, but I’d love to see more publishers getting into events. These are a great way to support direct sales, they facilitate the direct relationship between author and reader that publishers are in a prime position to nurture, they can be a profitable additional source of revenue as well as helping upsell books themselves, and they’re so versatile – from festivals to workshops, readings to conferences, there’s something to suit every type of publisher.

5) Can you give us a sneak peek of the ‘snapshot’ of the industry that you will be sharing with us at the launch?

Let’s just say it’s all about connections!

The next 5 years of publishing: Seonaid MacLeod interview

On the 8th June we’re launching the third title in the Snapshots series, BookMachine on publishing: the next 5 years, with a free event in four cities. Here Allison Williams interviews one of our speakers from the London event, Seonaid MacLeod on current publishing trends and predictions.

1) What are current trends and predictions that excite you most about the future of the publishing industry? 

There’s some really exciting developments in the way we publish and work. I see a lot of chat around making books coverage and conversation less elitist, and the industry itself – I’d like to see that turn into action.

2) What is the trend or prediction that scares you most about the future of the publishing industry?

Not so much a trend, more a continuation of the status quo. Ignoring potential audiences by publishing what is ‘known’ to sell is not just exclusive, but also bad business.

3) How do you think we can best combat that trend or prediction?

Thinking about where we’re advertising – not just our books but also job opportunities and industry information. Remember that social media can easily just reflect our own interests back at us… you might just be seeing booky monochrome Twitter.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see the publishing industry start doing in the next 5 years? 

Keep on keeping on.

5) Can you give us a sneak peek of the ‘snapshot’ of the industry that you will be sharing with us at the launch?

Seonaid MacLeod pic

Grab your free ticket for the launch of Snapshots III here.

Self-employed in publishing

The next 5 years of publishing: Jasmin Kirkbride interview

On the 8th June we’re launching the third title in the Snapshots series, BookMachine on publishing: the next 5 years, with a free event in four cities. Here Allison Williams interviews one of our speakers from the London event, Jasmin Kirkbride on current publishing trends and predictions.

1) What are current trends and predictions that excite you most about the future of the publishing industry?

I am so in love with crowd funding right now. It’s so brilliant: not only is it basically completely financially stable for the publisher and the author, it also increases the diversity of what’s getting published. By bringing print runs down and securing sales before the book even hits the shelves, it very low-risk in what are still quite uncertain times. But whilst being low-risk, crowdfunding actually also allows for the publication of interesting, diverse, unusual books that traditional publishing models would see as incredibly risky. It allows readers from so many more little niches to get stories that they’ll really love, and uncovers some real hidden gems. Getting this level of connectivity and support is using the internet to its best advantage.

In a similar vein, it’s also intriguing watching how many publishers are picking up really popular books from self-published and not traditionally published authors – whether through Wattpad or Amazon or whatever. I think we’ll see a lot more of this in the future. Though I wouldn’t say I’m excited by it, I think it’ll be fun to watch how that plays out in the long run.

2) What is the trend or prediction that scares you most about the future of the publishing industry?

There’s a lot of challenging stuff ahead, but I think virtual reality (VR) could be the next thing that really affects the industry in a scary way. It’s just about to start coming into its own, and I think it’s a much more immediate problem than something like AI.

3) How do you think we can best combat that trend or prediction?

I think this will really affect trade fiction a lot more than any other market, so I’ll focus on that. We need to remember what we do best, what fiction books offer that nothing else can. The beauty of a book is that, if it’s well-written, it can transport the reader into someone else’s shoes absolutely. Whether they’re picking up Fifty Shades or the next Man Booker winner, I really believe that somewhere in their reading experience, amongst other things, people are seeking out that feeling of frisson. That is the thing we will have over VR, but in order to be competitive, we have to keep up our editorial standards, our understanding of what the readership is seeking, and how to communicate with them.

4) What is one thing you’d like to see the publishing industry start doing in the next 5 years?

Look at the environment more. We have a lot of short term issues that we face as an industry and I’m not belittling those, they’re important. Actually, a lot of them – like diversity – have underlying causes and tensions that are really interconnected with environmental concerns. But we need to have a lot more meaningful discussions about our impact on the environment, and start actioning those quickly and effectively. It’s clear from the Paris Agreement that politicians aren’t going to put the pressure on industries enough for us to up our game before cause a complete catastrophe, so we’ve got to learn to put that pressure on ourselves. When the agreement was read out, a number of the African politicians just got up and left, because it was an ecological death sentence for their respective countries. We’re already seeing the first climate refugees. You know, we’ve got to look at our industry’s part in that.

5) Can you give us a sneak peek of the ‘snapshot’ of the industry that you will be sharing with us at the launch?

Keep calm and lobster on.

Grab your free ticket for the launch of Snapshots III here.

George Walkley

Looking foreword: The next 5 years of publishing

Here’s George Walkley’s foreword to the latest BookMachine book (published Spring 2016) and a taster of what’s to come:

Much of the debate about the future of publishing has concentrated on the print versus ebook dynamic. That is unsurprising, at least in as much as ebooks represent one of the most important commercial developments or our industry in recent years. In particular, they have allowed many authors to successfully publish themselves, reading to a parallel set of conversations about traditional versus self-publishing.

If only the world were so simple, and could be reduced to these sort of binary variables.

Print, ebooks, traditional publishers (large and small) and self-published authors will all coexist, as part of a future that is more messy and fragmented than the industry we know today.

As publishers, we’ve innovated around business models and delivery formats, but barely begun to realise the potential of genuine innovation around how we entertain and educate readers. In future, authors and publishers will offer a broader range of books and other media, products and services, print and digital, narrative text and non-linear content. Those will be delivered to readers via an increasing range of stores, platforms and devices, and sold according to multiple commercial models. They will face ever greater competition from a broad range of media, especially when consumed on a smartphone or tablet which also affords access to every other form of content. Some of the intermediaries and businesses in those processes will be long established in the world of books. Some of them won’t exist today and will emerge from the next decade.

The greatest challenge for publishers will be managing the range of processes and outcomes implied by these variables: structures, resources and capabilities established over many years may still be relevant for parts of the book market, but will seem, at best, situationally appropriate. Any publisher with scale and breadth of output will find itself having to manage multiple new processes alongside their existing business – and those who avoid that challenge by electing to specialise in particular niches may find their market smaller and returns diminishing.

In that context, the fundamental skills for publishers will be agility and learning. I believe that the publishers who are alive to creative, technological and commercial possibilities – those in fact who have the sort of professional curiosity and drive on display in this volume – will be the people who create the future of this industry.

George Walkley is Head of Digital for the Hachette UK Group with responsibility for enabling and driving implementation of digital initiatives and strategy across the group, including ebooks and apps. Since 2005 he has held various positions in marketing, business management and digital strategy at Time Warner Book Group and latterly Little, Brown Book Group.

growth spiral book

The business book (r)evolution: the growth spiral

For most of my working life I’ve been involved in some way with the reinvention of the book – the technical, commercial and creative aspects of digital publishing. It’s ironic, then, that at the start of this year I find myself heading up a revolution in publishing that I failed to spot in all those years of future-gazing.

Turns out I had the focus on my future-of-publishing telescope adjusted too narrowly. Publishers tend to see books as quite literally the ‘end product’: their workflows, systems and supply chains are set up to create and distribute books and books alone. Not surprisingly, then, when I started my business as a publishing partner I saw my purpose as helping people plan, write and publish excellent books.

In this new role as a partner rather than a traditional publisher, however, I became more engaged with the lives of the businesses and organisations I’ve worked with, and over the course of the last year came a quiet revelation: to stretch the astronomical metaphor to its limits, the book is not a lone star but the centre of a solar system.

The growth spiral model

spiralSo today I take a very different approach to publishing, and one which I predict will become more prevalent amongst traditional publishers in the coming years too. I work with experts in all sorts of creative content fields – designers, illustrators, speaking coaches, videographers, podcasters, bloggers and vloggers, website developers, digital marketing experts, instructional designers and so on – to create for each client a progressive constellation of content that fits their message and their market.

I call it the growth spiral model, a multi-channel, evolutionary approach to building both the business and the content that supports it. The growth spiral, also known as the logarithmic spiral, is a mathematical construct but it also appears in nature, in the nautilus shell, for example, or the sweep of a galaxy. It captures perfectly the unfolding, expanding nature of both a small business and the thinking behind a book

This growth spiral approach has several benefits, not least:

1) You’re more likely to write and publish the book

It takes a long time to write a good book, and many writers lose their way and their will in the process, but planning to create intermediary outputs keeps you focused and motivated.

2) You see a faster return on investment

When you’re writing as a business, you recognise the opportunity cost; there are other ways you could be spending your time and energy to build your brand and your revenues. Creating these outputs along the way, carefully planned to promote and support your business activities, means you see the results of your hard work sooner.

3) You’ll write a better book

You wouldn’t launch onto an unsuspecting market a product you’ve been building in isolation. You’d create a prototype, have people test it out, refine it in response to user feedback, incorporate ideas that came up during the testing. Why should a book be any different? Start getting your message out in a blog, a talk, a workshop, a course, and take on board the feedback. See what lands well and rework what doesn’t.

If you want to try out this new approach to the book for yourself, you can download my Growth Spiral model here. If you want to discover more about the Practical Inspiration Incubator, get in touch and let’s find out if it’s right for you.


future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

A version of this post was originally published here.

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