Thursday, 12 February 2015

Jon Walmsley on the changing face of academic and professional books

The term 'book' has always applied to a large variety of business models. But as an increasing proportion of sales are of digital versions, there is an even wider variety of models that have a small and volatile sales evidence-base.

Jon Walmsley, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director of Professional Practice and Learning at John Wiley and Sons outlined an approach for dealing with this situation at The Scholarly Book of the Future seminar.

Why do people buy books? To do a job, to research, to extend knowledge. At Wiley they developed a framework for describing books. Books 1.0 = print Books 2.0 = flat digital versions of print books with little or no functionality. Books 3.0 = things that do the same jobs for the same markets that 1.0 and 2.0 do, but better. It seems strange to call them 'books'. The challenge is to find a middle ground. It's not practical to develop a bespoke 3.0 solution based on every 1.0 or 2.0 title or brand. Equally, you can't expect to find one solution to do all these jobs. To make it work commercially, you need a small number of scaleable solutions.

Even if you could afford to develop multiple technology solutions, you won't be able to sell them without expensive specialists sales team. it makes it too expensive. How do you develop new business models for new products and prices where you have no experience at all? The existing book business has 300 years of experience behind it.

The books market is more fragmented than ever. They do all the jobs they ever did, but now co-exist with all the different versions up to pure digital. However, with fragmentation typically comes opportunity if you know your market and the opportunity.

What are your assets? Top brands, copyrights and authors are key. Deep community expertise, whether commissioners or marketers and existing sales market knowledge. Critical mass and quality of content combined with market reach is powerful. Partners, potential partners and technology expertise are all key.

So what is the answer? There isn't one definitive one. Any organisation needs a number of small scaleable 2.x or 3.0 solutions, focused on a small number of well-defined markets. This requires a high degree of discipline and is contrary to some notions of 'innovation'.

There are a number of technology considerations. The PDF is still desired, but digging into why can results in a better experience. Publisher platforms are not always optimal. Is it better to partner? Business model trends include the shift from ownership to access, the growth in rental and short-term loads, as well as evidence based models such as Usage Based Collection Management. It is crucial to work with your core customers to find sustainability. it is the only way to ensure scholarly communication will survive.

Users want easy access to all the good stuff that's relevant to them. Individual titles are valuable as parts of aggregations. Publishers need to be selective and can augment critical mass with partnerships. Bear in mind that librarians do not often buy books and journals together and this doesn't just apply to subject areas. Also understand that 'non-university' customers are fundamentally different.

There are also regional macro differences. Print books are most stable in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Asia and especially China is a major flat digital (2.0) market if you can reach it. The USA is the most volatile, but growing market for 2.0 aggregations.

Walmsley closed by urging publishers to consider how they select target markets based on assets and capabilities. Explore proven, scaleable business models for clear channel and partnering strategy. It's one thing to change, but developing new viable, scalable business models is crucial. Fewer business models and more partners will help. Have real clarity about existing assets and capabilities. Try to develop solutions that are cheap, fast, personalised and mobile.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds as though WIley still hasn't figured it out yet.