Why I Love Publishing

Tuesday, 18 February 2020 13:16

Publishing is and always has been a creative, knowledge-sharing business. Industrial processes from manufacturing to distribution bring this creativity to market in the publishing I love. 

Recent digital innovations are bringing in new processes, which extend and enhance what publishing can do.

Conventional forms of publishing are still valid, so digital publishing is not an ‘either-or’ choice. Most aspects of digital complement conventional methods and products. They streamline creative and production processes. They make market research and pre-selling easier. They help enormously with marketing and sales (which in the digital environment tend to merge). They underpin new products. And they reach more people, more readers, more supporters, more enthusiasts, in more ways. 

When there are active communities of enthusiastic consumers, they provide a strong foundation for growth. This is happening in other consumer-focused industries much more than in publishing. And it’s interesting to wonder why.

Remembering core values

At a recent conference of the wider media industries, the 2019 FIPP Media Congress, several speakers emphasised that, amid all the changes digital developments are bringing to publishing, core values remain as important as ever. Although this conference was primarily for news providers, magazines and brand managers, it was relevant to book publishing as well, because consumer interests as well as technologies are encouraging all media fields to converge. The key themes focused on good content, younger audiences, hybrid media (such as podcasts and ‘bookazines’) and, as change accelerates, the need to manage innovation in measurable ways. Here are some views that resonate particularly strongly.

On the importance of good content...

“Regardless of the medium, we know how to create compelling content that brings people together. If you have the right content, it doesn't matter if it's on the pages of a magazine, the pages a website, a Facebook post, you can reach and engage with consumers.”- Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of Trusted Media Brands, USA

On the interests of younger audiences...

“Rather than being disinterested in news, younger audiences find the format, approach, and products cumbersome to consume. The disconnect with mainstream publications could be driven by a user experience that is tailored to their content needs. The main publishers now need to ask themselves how to innovate and improve the user experience of younger audiences.”- James Hewes, President and CEO of FIPP

On podcasts...

“After experimenting with podcasts for nine years, we are seeing a significant growth in podcast in the last year, probably around 150 per cent.”- Tyler Brûlé, Editor-in-Chief at Monocle, UK

“Changes to consumer behaviour shows that video, music and computer software dominate subscriptions markets. These facts challenge publishers to adapt their content offering ... responding to the popularity of podcasts.”- Jonathan Wright, Global Managing Director at Dow Jones, Hong Kong

On the value of ‘bookazines’ to support niche interests...

“The future is actually very bright for bookazines specifically. We doubled the production of ours from 14 per year to 28 this year...we find that the more niche you go, and the more specific you are, you find passionate communities of people who want to buy that particular niche interest.”- Yulia Boyle, SVP” Global Media and Experiences, National Geographic

And on innovation ... 

Even though book publishing is often slow to innovate, the need to explore and experiment remains, especially in fast-changing times. But innovating with clear focus is essential to avoid the risk of ‘boom and bust’, which is commonly a result of inexperience.

“Innovation should be closely tied to strategic goals. Goals are not strategic if they are vague. Goals need to be precise enough that at the end of a quarter or a year you are able to see if you were achieving it. If it’s too vague to measure success, it is simply not a strategy.”- Anita Zielina, Director of News Innovation and Leadership, Craig Newman Graduate School at City University New York

Future books

Looking to the future, one trend to watch is creative collaboration around niche interests. Constructive growth comes less from mass expansion of interest in one topic – i.e. best-seller band-wagons – than from connecting the interests of enthusiasts in one niche to others, so ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendations, online and offline, can build the market. One niche always connects with others through human qualities such as enthusiasm and curiosity. Enthusiasm encourages more of the same; curiosity encourages interest in different things that share peripheral ground. 

The challenge is to find out about the additional interests of those in each niche and then build connections so their curiosity spreads and they encourage each other to grow. 

When publishing began, understanding the interests of readers came naturally through close contact and familiarity. With industrialisation, this was less possible, as the numbers of readers increased along with the distance between them. If our current ‘digital’ world really is ‘post-industrial’, it may become possible again for publishers to get close to those they publish for, in at least a virtual sense. Social media, the internet, and whatever comes next make all kinds of communication possible. And alongside, new ways of understanding customers are burgeoning too.

Currently, insights emphasise numerical, quantitative features more than subtler, more human qualities ... but all kinds of intelligence evolve and so it’s reasonable to suppose this will too.Humanity of PublishingPublishing is above all a human art and craft and industry. It is steeped in humanity. So it’s likely that publishing will mould the technologies it uses. And the effect of this ought to be stronger than the risk of the technologies undermining it. Keeping the human factor strong in publishing is one of the happier challenges publishers face. We all hope a utopian not a dystopian future will prevail. 

Bridge Media believes that a bridge serves both sides of the river