A voice from the future

‘Cliff hanger’ and ‘conference’ are words that don’t often play in the same scenario. But when Malcolm Neil was cut off mid-presentation at last week’s Independent Publishers Conference these words came to mind. Neil is Director, Content Acquisition and Publisher Relations, APAC at Kobo Inc. Kobo provides e-reading services (including e-readers and e-books) to over 200 countries. When Neil’s presentation abruptly concluded, he was sharing some choice insights into the behaviors of e-book purchasers.

This is an advantage that e-books have on the ‘device’ of a hard copy book: detailed metrics. Although providing the ‘detailed’ part would be commercially sensitive, Neil still gave interesting metrics to conference delegates. For example, Kobo has configured their email marketing to book-buying prime times: 10am and 8pm (you’ll notice a change in my social media habits as a consequence). Women are the predominant e-book and e-reader buyers (no surprises there). Women 65+ buy more than 12 e-books per year (that one did surprise me).

Thanks to ~FreeBirD®~ for use of this image, Future, under Creative Commons.

Neil spoke to us onscreen as if from the future. In fact he presented from his Singapore hotel room via Skype. And then his video-face froze, and a little ‘bzit’ line went across the screen and we all said, ‘Oh dear’. Neil did try to call back, but we lost him again and went on with the other presentations.

Speaking to him after the event I mentioned the technology had let us down. In fact it was the electricity at his hotel – not the Internet – that failed us. It’s an important point, given our subject matter.

Neil provided a few more choice stats to me. The bad news for non-fiction writers is the e-book market is predominantly a fiction one (more like 80/20 fiction/non-fiction in contrast to 60/40 in the print market). On the upside, there are more opportunities to find readers for self-published work, which as Neil says, ‘Is a little obvious when you think that in a physical book store you’ll find next to no self-published books.’ Still, it’s always good to see the theory reflected in the stats. Around 5% of e-books purchased are self-published.

I came from the conference with a sense that publishing had perhaps made amends with the ‘threat’ of e-books. Maybe it’s because I’m semi-converted (I’m distributing my own work and reading others’ electronically). Perhaps there’s room for both print and electronic. Maybe the change in publishing will hit a point of disruption to traditional publishing rather than complete annihilation.

‘That notion [of disruption] is not borne out by the evidence,’ Neil says. ‘Where you might have sold 3,000 copies of the [print] book you might sell 1,000 in the future. And those numbers will continue to change.’ Bookstores everywhere have modified their stock to include products that – unlike books – bring in strong margins. In the Australian context this need is exacerbated by fluctuating exchange rates.

‘I think there’ll still be bookstores and print sales because it’s an object, and people like buying objects. But ultimately as the economy of e-reading becomes more affordable [the print book is] in danger of becoming a secondary part of publishing.’ As well as that, once readers buy into an electronic provider (such as Amazon) they’re within that eco-system. ‘They’re going to get other emails about physical books. So they’re going to start purchasing [those] online as well,’ Neil says. He reminds me to look at job cuts in publishing and, ‘the way large publishers are nervously reconfiguring their businesses.’ (Although, as Mark Davis tells us, technology isn’t the only reason these changes have occurred).

Paper-book lovers will be glad to know that while in Singapore Neil bought a print book. It was a hand-stitched artifact by Math Paper Press. But he says, ‘In terms of the last mass-market [print] book that I bought… I can’t remember the last time I did that.’

 

Watch a video of Malcolm Neil presenting more choice info at the Copyright Agency’s 2012 Annual Seminar ‘Digital Publishing Today’.

 

Follow @futurelongform on Twitter (or its writer, Pepi Ronalds on Facebook) for more stories that explore long form non-fiction and the space between writers and readers in the new media galaxy.

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