Copyright Agency Limited Releases Results From Digital Publishing Trends Survey

The full article is here but I thought I’d pick out the key points and comment on them as it makes for interesting reading. And you know how I like to comment on stuff. CAL conducted a survey of members to learn more about their views of, and experiences with digital publishing in Australia. Over 2,000 CAL members responded, making this survey the largest of its kind in the Australian publishing environment. The survey was sent to all CAL members, ranging from international publishers to self-published authors, asking about their digital experiences and thoughts on the future.

Here are the key findings, in bold, with my comments after:

Both authors and publishers think the benefits of digital publishing far outweigh any of the downsides

I think this is a given now. There are very few people left, I think, who see digital publishing as a problem.

Around half of all authors and publishers create digital products

This surprised me – I thought it would be more by now. But more on that lower down.

The majority of publishers are still developing their digital strategies

This is not really a problem, but I see it more as a reaction to a rapidly changing environment. I think publishers will be constantly developing their digital strategies to keep up. It’s not something that will settle for a long time yet.

Only 15% of publishers have a competitively differentiating digital strategy

This is a problem. Digital needs to be seen as something different to the standard, existing print model of publishing and has to be treated differently. Publishers are already being left behind due to a resistance to accept this change and the longer they prevaricate, the harder it will be to catch up. Which they will inevitably have to do.

To date, 26% of publishers have no digital strategy at all

This is astounding! Just over a quarter? This is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s playing bowls while the Spanish Armada hoves into view. It’s foolish in the extreme to simply ignore the digital publishing revolution. Whether you like it or not, it is happening. It’s going to continue happening. It’s not a passing fad. There will be paper books and traditional publishing for a long time yet, but e-publishing is racing to catch up and will be rolling alongside as completely mainstream very soon.

To digress slightly, there seems to be a large proprotion of people that ask: Are you into paper books or ebooks? It’s not an either/or situation. I regularly buy both. I enjoy both. The vast majority of readers will be the same. But there are a lot of things now that I’ll buy as an ebook that I would never have bothered with in print – for cost, storage and ease of reading reasons – which makes the combination of print and digital far better than simply one or the other. Videos didn’t kill cinema, television didn’t kill radio. Ebooks won’t kill print publishing. But to completely ignore the rise of digital and have no strategy for it as a publisher is idiotic.

Digital publishing currently contributes less than 5% to the income of most authors and publishers – however, around 10% of authors and 14% of publishers currently make more than half their income from digital publishing

These are slightly rubber stats, but interesting nonetheless. Overall, the 5% figure stands, but that will be growing and will continue to grow until it is a much larger number. I’d say the authors and publishers making more than half their income from digital are the self-published, indie publishers and small press. And they will continue to grow in number as well. The digital options now make self-, indie- and small press publishing far more viable options than they ever were before and that’s very exciting.

Lower costs and improved access to markets are the greatest benefits for authors and publishers alike

See above.

Technical expertise, market dominance of multinationals and piracy are the three concerns shared by authors and publishers

This is no real surprise and is always going to be the case. Keeping up with technology and feeling the pressure from the “big guys” is a concern in all forms of business. From the corner store threatened by the massive super mall, to the indie music label threatened by the big labels, to the cottage industry threatened by the conglomerates. It’s always a battle in a capitalist environment. And piracy is something that affects all creative industries – film, music, television and publishing. Hell, I remember borrowing my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons rule books and spending hours photocopying them in the school library, because I couldn’t afford to buy my own.

But remember – the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity. It’s not going anywhere and we have to accept it as part of the digital landscape.

Low-level technical skills are the most significant barrier to market entry

I think this is more a fear than a reality. Anyone who suggested this has probably not tried to publish digitally because they think they won’t be able to. It’s actually bloody easy, and getting easier all the time.

Authors and publishers share some common views in relation to e-book royalties

Well, that’s good. We need to see the explanation to understand this point. So, from the original article:

Even in the contentious area of e-book royalties, authors and publishers shared some common views. No doubt there was some divergence of opinion, but the differences were by no means extreme. Similar numbers of authors and publishers (16.9 and 17.8%, respectively) thought e-book royalties should be set in the range of 11-20% of net receipts. Another 16% of authors and 13% of publishers thought that range should be 21-30%. Unsurprisingly a large cluster of authors (16.3%) felt the range should be 41-50% (whereas only 4% of publishers agreed). Interestingly, only 14.3% of authors felt the royalty should be 51% or greater. It should also be noted that when asked about the topic of ebook royalties, there was a significant proportion of both authors (24.3%) and publishers (38.8%) who chose not to express an opinion.

I think you’ll also find that a lot of authors are seriously considering retaining their e-rights and self-publishing their digital catalogue, so the percentage of royalties to a publisher becomes moot. But, speaking personally, if my publisher will cover all the technical aspects of design, layout, editing and so on, and leave me to write, I’m happy to split the royalties, just like regular publishing. Percentages will vary a lot, as they already do with print.

2/3 of CAL members believe that digital sales will eventually overtake print for the Australian publishing industry as a whole

And I agree with them. As I’ve said many times before, print will not die, but it will become boutique to some degree. Plus, does Print On Demand count as digital or print? Because the vast majority of paperback sales are likely to be POD before too long, in my opinion.

Of all the 2,090 CAL members surveyed, almost 19% own an iPad and over 12% own a Kindle

Given the supposed resistance to the rise of digital publishing, these are very revealing figures. There are also a lot of other ways to read ebooks and I don’t know if those were covered. It’s happening and only a handful of grumpy old bastards are really complaining.

These are exciting times and we should be enjoying the greatest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg press!

Go to the original article on the CAL site and have a read. Especially check out the italicised comments at the end. So, what do you think?

 

This is a reprint from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

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