Smart books: The future of publishing

New delivery models like Spotify point the way to profitable new publishing revenue streams

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The evolution of printed books

Increasingly, we consumers are a self-centred lot. We expect brands to shape their offerings in the mould of our preferences. We’re impatient too: we want things quickly, at a time that suits us.

Powerful, pervasive digital platforms have made us this way. Amazon led the way, challenging the centuries-old ‘bricks-and-mortar’ retailing business model. Netflix (125m subscribers and rising) and other on-demand platforms changed how we consume films and TV. Log into Spotify (170 million monthly users) each morning and you’ll find that day’s personalised playlist, ‘curated’ just for you based on your latest listens. Meanwhile Airbnb, after revolutionising hospitality, introduces the Airbnb Experiences program, which enables travellers to incorporate activities in their holidays — a calligraphy lesson, maybe, or learning a Malay dance. CEO Brian Chesky told USA Today the company sees this as an “Amazon-sized” market opportunity.

Personalised offerings make us feel valued, but they come at a price — personal information. Our browsing history and purchase patterns feed the algorithms that give brands the digital insights that create new personal propositions. But it’s a price the vast majority of us are happy to pay.

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New opportunities to improve book printing services

Amazon may have cut its teeth in book retailing, but stakeholders in the wider book publishing process haven’t yet worked out how to align their core product — the book itself — with the unstoppable trend towards individualisation.

It’s not that the industry has neglected digital technology; publishers, PSPs and digital technology providers have combined in a ‘triangle of expertise’ to instigate a digital book printing revolution over the last decade. Print runs based on guesstimates have been replaced by streamlined on-demand manufacturing and distribution models that reduce risk and make ‘zero inventory’ a possibility.

Furthermore, allaying fears that e-books would take over, the printed book has undergone a resurgence as consumers suffering ‘digital overload’ discover the rewards of a physical medium. At $151 billion, the global market is three times the size of the music industry.

But past and present performance is no guarantee of future results. The digital production revolution has improved the status quo, but it isn’t the ‘reboot’ that will fuel future growth. The new generation of readers is adept at viewing content on multiple devices simultaneously — be it written, audio or video. As author Peter Fisk told Canon’s Future Book Forum, “Consumption has changed — in media and format, time and place, in sequence and spontaneity, in duration and perceived value.”

Our ideas of what a book is must evolve to reflect these changes. Tomorrow’s books will provide a personalised experience combining the immersive and tangible characteristics of the physical book with the capabilities of digital formats, including being instant, customisable, efficient and updateable.

The book is no longer a ‘product’, it is a ‘content service’ that has evolved into a ‘smart book’.

Young woman reading book on stool

What is a smart book?

We asked this question to over 300 innovation experts, publishers, book printers and technologists at the 2017 Canon Future Book Forum. They decided a smart book had to be:

User-centric: Shaping the content to the reader’s specific needs and preferences, delivering content anytime, anywhere, across physical and digital platforms.

Open and accessible: Offering fast, open access to content for the widest possible audience, reducing barriers of entry based on cost or geography. It will be multi-platform, open source and ‘always on’.

Able to read the consumer’s mind: Delivery of content will be tailored to the individual, based on data the publisher has gleaned about their behaviour, interests and preferences. Content will be dynamic — obsolete content will be a thing of the past.

Immersive: The physical book is just one element in a 360-degree experience, a springboard to other formats and content threads.

THE SMART BOOK IS ABOUT DELIVERING CONTENT IN A WAY THAT IS RELEVANT, APPROPRIATE AND TIMELY FOR THE USER.

Peter Fisk, GeniusWorks

Digital book printing is critical

The industry is some way from creating such holistic products, but the logic is irrefutable: physical and digital, static and dynamic, will work together; content will work harder; and profits will grow. Digital print workflows are critical to exploiting the opportunities that exist, but only if publishers and printers realise, first, that digital offers more than efficiency improvements and, second, that they need to work even more closely together to reveal more opportunities in print.

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