Digital Book World looks ahead

Libraries, bookselling, diversity, AI, and in-person conferences

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Image: Janko Ferlic on Unsplash

2020 was a transformative year. The arrival of a global pandemic brought with it both clarity and urgency borne out of deep, almost-year-long frustration and difficulty.

2021 will be off to the races, both personally and professionally. It’s entirely possible the publishing landscape becomes much more re-written after 2021 is said and done than it is now that 2020’s almost in the books. Transformative won’t even come close to covering whatever world we’re in 12 months from now.

Libraries

Libraries provide the publishing industry with a unique, tactile marketing opportunity at scale. Library patrons have the chance to experiment with new books and new authors, which they might otherwise not do if all they had were bookstores. Libraries turn people into book-buying machines – library patrons not only buy lots of books for themselves but also buy lots of books as gifts for other people – while fostering valuable educational accessibility on a local level.

We’re on Team Library around here, and that won’t be changing anytime soon – libraries are a vital part of our communities and deserve support, and will need it in a rebuilding, post-pandemic world.

Bookselling

Booksellers, in particular, have enjoyed a significant bump in sales caused by Trump’s political ascension. Even with Trump out of office, there won’t be an immediate end to that revenue – it will end gradually. But it indeed will end. Then what?

Bookselling, to me, remains one of the singular greatest opportunities in the publishing industry. We love convening in bookstores, physically shopping the various aisles and having serendipitous moments of discovery, and leaving with a couple of new purchases in hand.

Whether at Barnes & Noble as they try to turn that business around, or with some upstart bookselling business, we have yet to see a truly “next generation” bookstore.

Such a thing would combine intelligent marketing initiatives, forward-thinking and perhaps AI-driven approaches to inventory management, and an ability to upsell digital books and other content to purchasers of physical titles in a way that hasn’t been conceived of yet.

Current bookstores instead march backward to more nostalgic, community-driven models to attempt to survive, which is understandable but destined to have a limited window of opportunity. We need the digital book world to extend into the bookstore, and then we’ll see much more sustainable business models start to appear.

Diversity

Since we acquired the Digital Book World business in 2017, two of the three DBW keynote speakers have been Black (Lisa Lucas in 2019, Jenn Baker in 2020; Walt Mossberg in 2018 being the exception), and we honored legendary editor Marie Dutton Brown as our first Publishing Hall of Fame inductee before naming the DBW Medal for Leadership in Diversity after her permanently. Diversity doesn’t just happen on its own, and we’re proud of some of the things we’ve done to support minorities in publishing.

AI

The world of AI (and the world of voice as a user interface, which is an important component in bringing us “conversational AI”) is on the verge of reshaping the publishing industry.

The issue with the publishing industry is that the entire industry revolves around words. And guess what? The AI that exists today is really, really good with words. 

AI probably won’t replace the jobs of those who are the very best in their fields at various publishing jobs: the best copy editors, the best literary agents, the best translators, and localization experts, the best supply chain managers, the best marketers, and so on.

But if you’re not the best in the game? You will most certainly get replaced by AI, and it will happen in a very short amount of time, possibly in the next three years.

It’s a double-edged sword: the rise of AI will enable new publishers and publishing houses to come into existence that never could have without the use of AI to replace jobs…but many will lose their jobs to this AI in the process.

In-Person Conferences

Soon enough, likely in the next three months, everyone who wants the Covid vaccine will be able to get it.

Some people will go back to the office, but it won’t happen in droves. We’ve gotten too comfortable working from home.

But what absolutely will happen in droves is the return of working professionals to in-person conferences and industry gatherings around the world.

For a professional culture where most now work from home, in-person conferences become absolutely essential and arguably way more important than ever before.

First of all, you need to keep connections with those in the field. This is your hedge against your own termination or change in job status with your employer and helps ensure you maintain a level of visibility among your peers.

But further, many business units and teams within companies will be spread out across the globe. Some have taken the opportunity of 2020 to move to rural locations that used to be off-limits. Others have spread out among various cities.

Re-convening back in an office setting makes little sense. But what makes a whole lot of sense is gathering at an in-person conference, where some education and sharpening-of-the-saw can happen, while also using that open and presumably safe environment to see each other’s faces for the first time in a while as well.

I think in-person conferences, across every sector and industry, are about to boom, in addition to the travel and hospitality sectors necessary to accommodate them.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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