On 15 February 2010 Senator The Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research announced the establishment of the Book Industry Strategy Group (BISG). The formation of the BISG recognises the importance of the Australian book industry and the need to develop viable strategies for operating in the digital age and improving supply chain efficiencies.
The following is if:book Australia's submission to the BISG, highlighting the topics we feel are important for the industry to consider for the future. if:book also attended a workshop for authors and agents discussing the future of publishing further. This submission was written over December and January and completed before the workshop.
Our goal with this submission is not to describe all the changes that have occurred and will occur in the book publishing industry as a result of digital innovation. Instead, we choose to focus on a few specific issues or ‘pain points’ where we believe a new approach or industry/government intervention could produce significant benefits for consumers and businesses.
In considering a response to the BISG, we have established the following guiding principles:
- All publishers are not the same. Australian publishers vary greatly in their size and content and their approach to digitisation is similarly diverse.
- All authors are not the same. Some authors wish to focus on their craft and let others handle the business side of publishing, including ebooks and digital opportunities. Other authors act as their own publisher. Many more fit along a continuum between these extremes.
- Digital publishing and print publishing are not distinct from each other; they are two aspects of one process.
Treating publishers, authors, or any other group in the industry as homogenous and with a common goal will not produce effective strategies for the Australian book industry as a whole. A viable commercial strategy addressing the future health of publishers, booksellers and authors should not limit itself to print or even ebooks, but should account for the diversity of models in which writers connect with readers.
Disintermediation versus the Control Continuum
The new landscape of publishing has been described as ’disintermediated‘, in other words that authors no longer need publishers or other intermediaries to reach readers. In one sense this is true. Direct access to readers via free and open publishing platforms is widely available to authors. What we’ve seen, however, is that authors have not abandoned publishers entirely, but rather have spread out along a continuum in which they can choose the level of control they wish to have in publishing their work and accessing readers.
As digital publishing has progressed, the number of strategies available to connect authors with readers has multiplied. The following diagram indicates where just a few of these strategies fit on the continuum.
Examples of strategies available to connect authors to readers
In the past, authors had to rely on the left side of this continuum because publishers controlled distribution. Although this remains the primary model for authors, we have seen considerable movement to the right. Web-based retailers and author services such as Lulu or Smashwords have contributed to this shift and opened more two-way communication with aggregated readers’ responses, which frequently find their way back to the author. At the far right of the continuum are tools such as blogs or Twitter that act as a direct link between authors and readers.
‘[Publishers are] still gatekeepers, but the gate isn’t attached to a fence or wall anymore so aspirants just walk around it.’
– Mike Shatzkin
The following table identifies some of the changing business models emerging in this ‘disintermediated’ landscape:
|Traditional Business Model||New/Emerging Business Models|
Challenges for the traditional publishing model
- To balance an environment where local authors, publishers, printers, and retailers can thrive while maintaining the freedom to reach international readers with little interference.
- To protect authors’ and publishers’ investment and intellectual property without disregarding the needs of readers.
- To accommodate a publishing environment where print is only one of many formats in which readers prefer their texts.
Geographic restrictions and territorial rights
The licensing of publishing rights based on geographic territories is an increasingly vexed issue, particularly for the Australian industry. As consumer demand for digital books increases, the expectations of consumers who are shopping in a global digital marketplace clash with the contractual arrangements between publishers and retailers.
Publishers traditionally trade geographic publishing rights because it is more feasible for local publishers to print, distribute and promote a title in their local market. This is especially relevant for print titles where distribution costs, relationships with booksellers and marketing strategies are all better served by acting locally. In Australia, geographic publishing rights are further formalised into legislated territorial rights, ostensibly to prevent potential competitors from the much larger UK and US markets having unfair advantage over local companies.
As publishing contracts have expanded to incorporate digital and electronic rights, the same geographic boundaries from print publishing have been applied with little thought to their practicalities in the marketplace.
As book buying moves to the web, and especially in the case of digital books, customers expect to be able to purchase a title they want in the place they find it. To be told they are not permitted to purchase an ebook based on where they live creates frustration and encourages them to turn to piracy to satisfy their demand.
However, international rights sales can represent significant revenue for publishers and it’s increasingly unlikely they’ll be able to complete these sales if digital/ebook rights do not follow the print rights for specific territories. Authors and their agents often get caught in the middle of this arrangement where they would like authors’ books to be available to readers globally but depend on the individual publishers and retailers in each territory to coordinate the availability of ebooks.
Most importantly, it’s our view that Australian publishers are better served by acquiring and holding on to worldwide ebook rights. Our publishers, particularly small and independent companies, have an unprecedented opportunity to compete effectively against international publishers with digital products. It is likely to lead to a better long term outcome for authors, publishers and readers if ebooks can be made available globally simultaneously (at least in English-language editions).
The problem with DRM
While the stated intent behind digital rights management (DRM)—the prevention of unauthorised copying and distribution—provides a reasonable response to protecting authors’ and publishers’ interests in a digital environment, its application across all creative industries has been plagued with technical problems and, at its worst, it has damaged the relationship between industry and consumers.
DRM technology provides only temporary protection from piracy and overly restrictive terms come usually at the cost of consumers’ good will. Determined programmers (or groups of programmers) can unlock any given DRM system in a short space of time, regardless of its level of sophistication. Reports that games developer Ubisoft’s new DRM had been ‘cracked’ within 24 hours of its release were greeted with unabashed pleasure from many in the gaming community. Similarly, those who are determined to read ebooks for free will find a way to do so, regardless of DRM.
Many consumers and creators alike advocate lifting DRM restrictions altogether. Some authors choose to offer their work under a Creative Commons licence, which (depending on the licence) may freely allow a work to be copied or even adapted, though with appropriate attribution of the source. Apple Inc.’s iTunes Music Store famously dropped DRM from all its music files early in 2009. When it opened in 2003, the iTunes Store applied DRM that was hailed as the least restrictive to user experience then available, however it was not enough to avoid resentment among consumers.
At the same time though, Apple’s App Store has demonstrated that consumers will happily purchase DRM-restricted content if it does not affect their experience of the product. The App Store has the advantage that consumers do not expect the products to work on devices other than the iPhone, an expectation that does not hold for ebooks.
A publisher’s perspective on DRM that sympathises with our views can be found at:
Designing for digital
The capacity for publishers to aggregate a range of revenue streams from the content they licence from authors is limited if they use a print-first production workflow. At the moment, many publishers produce ebooks from final proofs, usually in a desktop publishing format ill suited to repurposing. The primary focus in such a workflow is on the print edition leaving other formats as an afterthought. Even publishers who intend to produce ebooks alongside print editions perform conversion at the end of the print production workflow. The result is higher conversion costs and less flexibility. It often results in publishers outsourcing ebook conversion instead of developing in-house digital expertise. Downstream, this will likely encourage dependency on third-party suppliers who will control costs and limits digital-first or digital-only publishing strategies. It fails to maximise the overall profitability of licensed content.
Instead, publishers with an all digital workflow would be able to take immediate and full advantage a text’s potential. A text held in a relatively raw digital XML format can be edited, refined and tagged with metadata. Metadata contains machine-readable information—themes, topics, genre, rights, indexing—on the text that can be applied to any future format. As well as accompanying the text itself, metadata can be distributed and disseminated independently. An example of this is the front cover image and back cover blurb that are frequently employed as a marketing tool.
Used as the primary source, XML-tagged text can then be streamlined into a number of formats more or less simultaneously. Custom styles can be then applied to the same base text and spun off into relevant formats:
- Desktop publishing for print
- Epub, Kindle, or similar (with separate style or perhaps a house style) for ebooks
- Text can be broken into parts for serialisation/web use
- Incorporating images, audio or other non-text content for apps
It also means the text is in the best available condition to be converted into future formats that might rise to prominence.
We advocate better education for Australian authors, literary agents and publishers to improve rights literacy. This includes not just knowledge of general copyright legislation but also the advantages and restrictions of particular licensing models, including Creative Commons, ebook and interactive rights, geographic rights and DRM.
Legacy publishing contracts are still, typically, geared towards print books. Authors and publishers, particularly new small start-up enterprises, can and should take advantage of new flexible models for licensing content in digital marketplaces. These models may not look like traditional book contracts and education and training would improve the ability for individual authors or independent publishers to build the publishing businesses of the future.
Consider DRM from a reader’s perspective
Much of the discussion around digital rights management has been focused on its impact on the production side of the industry. This narrow focus can lead to a restrictive user experience. For DRM to be an effective tool, it must be invisible to readers engaging in fair use of the text within the law.
The critical consideration for the industry is in determining what constitutes ‘fair use’. How might a reader reasonably use a given text? Is it reasonable for a reader to change reading devices without having to re-purchase books? Is it reasonable for a reader to access their books on multiple devices simultaneously? Is it reasonable for readers to lend their books to others, provided the text is not duplicated in the process? Is it reasonable for readers to change their preferred reading format without having to re-purchase their library? None of these questions are technical in nature and all have rough analogies in print.
We recommend raising the level of debate in Australia about the use of DRM in book publishing, particularly from a business and customer service perspective, rather than from a moral or philosophical perspective. This could be achieved through more frequent formal conferences or consultations between industry sectors, such as between industry associations representing publishers, authors, and booksellers.
We advocate a shift away from the print-centric workflow most publishers currently adopt towards an approach that can be described as format-agnostic.
This is likely to be a costly change for some publishers used to traditional methods of working on print-formatted proofs, but will be essential in meeting the needs of readers and consumers who will expect texts in a variety of formats simultaneously.
Therefore we recommend that either APA or specific industry groups consider funding a national training program in ‘StartWithXML’ or XML-driven workflow.
More information on StartWithXML: http://toc.oreilly.com/startwithxml/
Australia’s independent booksellers face considerable challenges to meet demand from readers for digital text and other content. The recent partnership between SPUNC, Inventive Labs, and Readings explores one possible model for the future. We advocate further such experimentation to maintain the vitality and relevance of Australia’s independent sector.
Image by qthosmasbower.