An audience of publishers, editors, writers, actors, producers of audio books, educators, librarians and more, met during November 3-5 at first Caribbean Digital Publishing Conference, held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, Kingston, to discuss the nexus between print and digital publishing. It wasn’t possible for one person to cover all sessions, and I focused on some plenaries, which included sessions on ‘the impact of digital technology on the publishing industry’ and ‘international copyright protection in the digital era’. Small group discussions I attended focused on topics such as ‘policing digital piracy’ in the Caribbean; ‘collective management & facilitating access in a changing digital environment’; ‘is digital publishing print’s best friend?’; and ‘digital disruption: how do I manage all this without going crazy or broke?’

I had a few key takeaways from the many speakers and the lively discussions.

Publication industry players need to adapt to developments in their sectors, but some deaths will occur. This is a normal economic process. I’m not sure that one needs to be dramatically surprised at any developments, even Amazon opening a physical bookstore, as they just have. Books and printed material aren’t going anywhere fast. Not least because a strong emotional connection with printed material still exists, even if it is generational. Like with fashions or writing with pens, less love for print now may just be a pause for its resurgence.

Social media are forcing many trends and they are not all obvious or easy to capture. People like interacting, and that may be the saviour of many things printed. Online community reading may be one way that digital is supporting print.

No one can really forecast the future well, but it’s useful to pose good questions. One is ‘Are the publishing demands of Millenials well understood?‘ This group has significant buying power and seems to be fickle in what it wants, and when.

People have gotten used to many choices. That, too, may save print because many people want different formats and each format has its merits. I had a Kindle, but I gave it to one of my older children when I got a smart phone and the Kindle app. I travel a lot and weight is important: one e-reader loaded with material saves many a sore back and arms. People who have no or limited access to printed material can be much better served and at lower cost through e-readers (notwithstanding the need to create power supplies and maybe Internet access, but the marginal cost of that is falling).

My wife loves to read and loves to buy books, but she lives in a bureaucratic world where printed document circulation is just inefficient, so material is in electronic form (links, PDFs, word-processed), which can be distributed to all instantaneously and weightlessly.

I have a visitor who told me that she keeps a hand-written journal that she shares with friends as a PDF and may one day bind as a book. She sent emails to her friends and patients in Canada to tell of her safe arrival last night, not a written letter to each, that needed to be mailed from the local post office in Jamaica, which happened to be closed at the time 🙂

Those examples just go to show how people will work with the various choices. But, the choices reflect a very competitive space. Competition means money to be made, legally and illegally (NB nearly 25% of global bandwith is use for digital piracy). Check the graphics.

Slide produced by George Walkley, Head of Digital, Hachette, UK

Slide produced by George Walkley, Head of Digital, Hachette, UK

Climate change may drive choices. The desire to save trees may have more impact on the book industry than the desire to reduce carbon footprints has on reducing use of electronic devices.

Many financial considerations may drive successes and failure. Just two thoughts to provoke more questions.

First, one copyright litigator did not have an answer to my question about how the authentication and payment processes for intellectual property rights would deny scammers filching the money with, say, a phony ‘pay wall’ at the access points. You think you paid and have the right? The owner says “No way!’ The scammer adds to his or her collection of bling and cha-ching-ching.

Second, how good are intellectual property (IP) assets? If financial institutions can now take IP assets as collateral for loans that’s only a possible way for financing to get to say musicians and writers. Banks aren’t obliged to take such assets. If I offer a building or some tangible assets, the assessment of its worth is less contentious than if I offer my IP rights. More broadly, who other than a financial institution–who can create ways of making many things smell sweet–would take IP rights in exchange for other assets? That’s a bottom line question. Go to a poker table and you may be able to get more chips with the keys to your car or house, but what about your IP rights?

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