The Future Of Books In A World Gone Mobile

by , Jun 6, 2012, 1:20 PM
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Lots of content creators found their way to Manhattan this week -- but landed on different floors of the same convention center.

BookExpo America (BEA), which bills itself as the largest book industry event in North America and one of the largest gatherings of publishers in the world, was hosted upstairs at the Jacob Javits Center. The show aggregates an array of publishers, book industry services and related retail.

Running concurrently downstairs at Javits was the BlogWorld and New Media Expo, which promotes itself as the largest conference in the world geared to bloggers, podcasters, Web TV content creators, social media enthusiasts and new media content creators.

Both events draw thousands of attendees, with BlogWorld’s projected to be around 3,000 and BEA more than three times that number.

The upstairs book-oriented confab was literally overflowing with many thousands of physical printed books, while downstairs was focused on all things digital.

BEA featured all the major book publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Random House and Penguin Group, along with many hundreds of small publishers.

Downstairs at BlogWorld, many exhibitors focused on digital delivery -- such as WordPress, which powers some 75 million blogging sites and whose mobile app has been downloaded about five million times.

And there was Stitcher, the smart radio app that aggregates 7,000 content providers and 1,000 live radio stations, according to Rachel Eaton, director of content partnerships at the California-based company -- whose app also has been downloaded five million times.

As I made the rounds of publishers upstairs I asked various book publishers what they were doing with mobile. I got answers such as “not enough, really -- we have a few mobile sites we plan to launch” and “nothing, really.”

Many of the publishers also said their mobile efforts were being managed by their distributors -- most notably Ingram, the largest book wholesale distributor in the world, with millions of titles and more than 71,000 retail and library customers.

The obvious question in the room filled with physical books and the publishers whose mission is to derive revenue from publishing them is the role of mobile in their future.

“Our job is to get the published content to where the consumer wants to buy it,” said Marcus Woodburn, vice president, Digital Products at Ingram.

With the global nature of mobile, getting that content to consumers looks to be a different animal based on the particular market.

“In South Africa only one percent are connected to the Net,” said Woodburn, noting that a market such as that would be better suited to delivering books to be read on phones, with similar situations in other parts of the world, such as certain areas of Latin America and China.

“The phone is the most widely used device, so the content delivery is somewhat device-driven,” Woodburn said. “People do read books on phones.”

The mobile book market could develop so that different markets behave differently and publishers adapt accordingly.

For example, the U.S. market may use mobile to order a book to be delivered or downloaded on an e-reader. Another market may use a phone to read a book, and a third scenario is that a first chapter may be free on the phone as a promotion to order the book either physically or digitally, according to Ingram.

With these options, Woodburn sees the book market potential to be larger outside the United States because publishers can reach customers they never could have reached before.

We heard similar sentiments in a recent meeting in Latin America, where bankers were looking to reach customers who have never had a bank account, since they don’t have access to a bank or the Internet, but they have mobile phones.

Print on demand (POD) technology developed over the years also allows the model of previewing and then ordering a book to be more efficient. This does not mean printing a book to be picked up your local Sir Speedy, but rather POD deployed around the world in large, centralized facilities by companies like Ingram.

With facilities in various countries ranging from Europe to Australia, Ingram says it now prints more than 25 million POD books a year.

In the U.S., for example, a current routine is that a book is ordered from Amazon, and Ingram prints it, ships it to Amazon and it goes to the consumer in the typical Amazon box, just days after being ordered.

So despite all the physical, printed materials in the upstairs Javits, there are some people highly focused on the proper fit of mobile in the world of books.

Meanwhile, downstairs at the same center, there were thousands of individual bloggers (AKA publishers) looking for ways to expand their digital reach. All their POD is digital.

The race is on to see which of the publishing entities best utilizes mobile, with the content consumer being the most likely beneficiary.

2 comments on "The Future Of Books In A World Gone Mobile ".

  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: June 7, 2012 at 11:15 a.m.
    Reading books on small little screens is detrimental to vision. As for third world countries, obviously someone has missed seeing the people don't wear glasses. They do not have facilities and cannot afford them. The people who do wear specs are the people who have tablets or laptops. Using a phone for a transaction and reading books are not the same.
  2. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin
    commented on: June 7, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.
    Agree with that about vision but we are told that people there are in fact reading books on phones. We'll see long term how it plays out. Good points you raise. Chuck

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