Barnsley: future lies in hands of consumers
17.05.10 | Graeme Neill
The book trade’s future lies with the consumer, not the technology companies driving digital change, the Publishers Association president has claimed.
Victoria Barnsley, c.e.o. and publisher at HarperCollins, said the consumer has more power than they ever had before in choosing their entertainment. She told delegates at the Book Industry Conference today (17th May): “They are now just one click away from finding all the content they can consume, anywhere, in whatever form and—frighteningly—for whatever price they’re prepared to pay. As an industry, we ignore the increased power of the consumer at our peril. But of course they could be our salvation.”
She added: “Our future will be decided in the end, not by technology companies, but by the value consumers place on what we do.”
Barnsley argued the trade should stop talking about the “digital future”, suggesting instead the industry was living in the digital present. She said US e-book sales were now worth almost $60m per month, or almost half the size of the UK book market. In the United States, e-books have grown threefold since 2007 with Simon & Schuster US c.e.o. Carolyn Reidy arguing they will account for 25% of total book sales in two years.
She said the book trade needed to confront three threats to it. The first was the devaluation of content through offering content for free and determining a business model later. She noted how newspapers tried to build a business model based on free content but “it hasn’t worked”. Rupert Murdoch, chairman and c.e.o. of HC parent company NewsCorp, said earlier this year that he plans to charge for access to news on NewsCorp sites. Barnsley said: “Once consumer behaviour is established, changing it is likely to prove a massive challenge. If there’s one lesson we can learn from all this, it is not to give away your content.”
Piracy was the second threat as the amount of digital book content available increases. Barnsley said: “In the long run, we have to offer consumers an alternative [to piracy], by providing them with easy access to digital content at prices they are prepared to pay.”
The third was a potential collapse of the book market caused by the increasing amount of user-generated content online as well as competition with other media.
She said it was still early enough for the UK trade to influence digital changes to the industry. She said: “If we don’t stake our claim by building a position in the digital landscape, if we fail to deliver value for authors and consumers, then someone else surely will. Someone else will stake out that territory and make money in the process.”
Barnsley noted a recent survey in the Financial Times, which said the price of digital content needs to come down to become more attractive to consumers. She said: “Obviously that has lots of implications for us, both for the scale and value of our potential digital market, and what it will mean for our physical market. Getting all this right is crucial—and we don’t have much time.
“Publishers and booksellers have to work together to produce sustainable businesses for a digital world. And we have to start now.”