James De Waal, Head of Marketing Business Imaging Group, Canon South Africa
James De Waal, Head of Marketing Business Imaging Group, Canon South Africa

The proliferation of digital content channels, and the rise of formats such as e-books, audio books and reading apps, have driven publishers to reflect on their business models and think ‘beyond the traditional book’.

But while publishers have done a great deal already to adapt to changing reader preferences, many still aren’t taking full advantage of all the opportunities enabled by intelligent use of data.

This was a topic discussed at our last Future Book Forum, where we looked at the power of data and community to drive the publishing industry forward, and explored how publishers and printers can uncover new growth potential by building and nurturing communities of readers.

Communities lead to new content

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Author and business advisor Peter Fisk who chaired the event, explained: “Consumers are the main drivers in the publishing industry today, and publishers have an opportunity to bring them together in communities where they can share their passions and do more together. It’s a chance to fundamentally change how publishers engage with their markets, shifting from selling to enabling, from transactions to relationships, from supply to support, from publisher to facilitator.”

The traditional book as we know it has a new role to play in becoming an intrinsic part of a customers’ wider brand experience, making it a more valuable product as a result.

Rock band Radiohead is a great example of this, as Lucas Dietrich, founder of curated publishing platform Volume, highlighted at the same event. Talking about how to profitably publish small editions of books through crowdfunding, Lucas spoke about how Radiohead created a collector’s edition book for its fans. Band member Stanley Donwood sent just one tweet about the book. Within six hours, all 500 copies were sold. That’s the impact of understanding fans’ interests – but also knowing where they congregate and using that channel to drive book sales.

Lucas gave another example – of video game designer, art director and photographer Liam Wong. With over 204,000 Instagram followers, within just 45 days Liam sold 2,600 copies of a customised book of his images of Tokyo through the lens of a video game.

Cross industry collaboration

There’s a huge opportunity for diverse industries to collaborate to create innovative and tailored ‘products’ or ‘content’ to enhance consumer experiences. Publishers need to rethink how they can leverage digital platforms and processes to make the books they create more valuable – and more commercially rewarding. This requires an understanding of consumer behaviours and  interest communities to evaluate and stimulate demand.

In the case of Radiohead, for example, the record label collaborated with the publisher to create a limited edition book. The band could give their valued fans exclusive content, which was the key driver for demand for the book.

Esports club Movistar Riders has adapted its approach and content to the preferences of its almost 80,000 followers. CEO Fernando Piquer explained how online tournaments are hosted on the Twitch platform, which allows the company to engage in live chats with the audience and has fostered an active and highly engaged gaming community. Movistar Riders is also part of Readmagine, a partnership between gaming, publishing and literacy organisations which seeks to bring young online gamers closer to books by harnessing the crossover between fantasy in literature and gaming. It’s a great illustration of the opportunity for publishers to collaborate with digital-first communities to create special book experiences aligned to their interests. Publisher Read-Only Memory is already doing this by creating art books for avid video game fans.

Many opportunities lie ahead with these special interest micro-audiences, if publishers can serve them exclusive, unseen or enhanced content. Consider a fashion designer creating a book of designs that never made it into production, or a revered artist publishing their work in a series of special coffee-table editions for fans. The key is to deliver content in a way that makes fans and followers feel valued and special. Exclusivity and desirability translate into demand and value.

Book the VIP experience

The traditional publishing model has been to manufacture one book with an identical cover and distribute through a number of book stores. But in the age of individualism, many consumers no longer want a ‘standard’ product, and they’re prepared to pay a premium for something personal or customised for them.

Publishers need to use consumer insight and consider offering targeted and exclusive products that deepen their experience. With so many different channels vying for our attention, readers demand more. They want to be treated as valued individuals, offer content that reflects that individuality and perhaps recognises their loyalty.

Exclusivity or restricted supply has always been a powerful marketing tool. It generates both curiosity and urgency, and creates feelings of importance and belonging. It can drive demand and be used to justify substantial price premiums.

The publishing industry has yet to fully recognise that digital production models make ultra-short runs and even single edition economically viable. This opens up an exciting new landscape of opportunity to create exclusives, limited editions, pre-launch ‘early bird’ specials, collectable covers, embellished or personalised editions, or to curate content specifically for micro-communities and use these to drive demand and high-margin sales.

Thinking beyond the book, using audience insight to drive revenue further with exclusive companion products, for example posters of the book’s cover or even paid access to VIP workshops, clubs or events.

The future success of the publishing industry relies on reinvention of content formats, harnessing data to improve customer journeys, and imaginative collaboration with other industries. In the new era of publishing, we’ll create exclusive, intelligent content that goes right to the heart of niche communities and the individuals that belong to them.