Last week’s lecture was concerned with the state of trade publishing today and we were given many insights into that very thing by Dan Franklin, digital publisher at Penguin Random House UK, and our course leader Ernesto Priego Here are the key things I took away from the session:
• Much of the editorial process consists of understanding an audience, filtering and curating – all of which equally apply to librarianship. We can also add to this list the importance of discoverability (the ease with which your products and services can be found online).
• Multimedia is so 90s. Today it’s all about cross-media, or spreadable media.
• Waterstones, to name the UK’s largest chain of bookshops, takes its stock on a sale or return basis. This means that the onus is on the publisher to print just the right amount for each title. A lot of work goes into getting this right, to keep costs to a minimum.
• Penguin Random House UK’s revenue is split 75% print / 25% digital. I should have asked if the profitability of each sector is roughly equal.
• Dan had hotfooted it back (early) from SXSW, where people were talking about how digital is influencing print.
• The media may be changing, but storytelling is as important as ever. Tech firms – e.g., WeTransfer – are investing in stories to promote their digital services.
• The EPUB3 standard allows for fixed layout ebooks with interactive features. Re-flowable text was the USP of the original standard but some documents, such as picture books, require that the layout does not change according to screen or font size. I happen to be developing brochures in EPUB3 format for a multinational industrial client and I’ve had problems getting all of the features to work on all platforms. Apple is the best. Microsoft is the worst. Android is somewhere in-between. Who knew?
• Penguin Random House UK has its own in-house app platform that editorial staff can fill with content in order to publish an app; so far, this is used for cookery apps.
• Audio is also a large and growing sector of digital. Car manufacturers are developing digital dashboards and want custom content to sell with them, for which they turn to publishers.
• Penguin Random House UK also has an ‘author portal’, where its authors can login and get live sales data and more on their titles.
• Dan also shared many other examples of digital content – much of it far more than just an ebook version of a print book. For example, a cross-media edition of Graham Greene’s The Third Man, which combines scene’s from the film with the text of the story. Gimmicky, you might think, but Greene wrote the screenplay before the book.
The bottom line is that, despite the proliferation of media – much of which is technically far more accessible to individuals who might want to publish something – content is still king, and publishers are still a trusted source of good content.
Case in point? If you self-publish and have a hit you’ll get offers from trade publishers that will lead to your being signed, making money, and reaching a significantly wider audience.
Dan seemed pretty relaxed about the future.