Friday, 23 April 2010

Life in the Digital Fast Lane


Ali Muirden's recent article on a brave new world.

There
s an old saying that if you want to make a million in publishing, youd better start off with two million - and, as is the nature of a cliché, it has the ring of truth.

However, since the world of publishing was forced to go digital, the opportunities that are opening up for would-be publishing entrepreneurs have never been brighter - although some might say things have also never been more problematic.

As someone who cut her publishing teeth during the heyday of long boozy publishing lunches, wild launch parties and book sales resembling international telephone numbers, I could perhaps be forgiven for wailing for the good old days” – but instead, I’m looking hopefully towards the future.

Sales of digital downloads are on the increase. In the US they have grown rapidly from just 6% of the audio market in 2004, to 21% in 2008. Total audio sales in the US are currently estimated to be $1 billion at retail. Sales of pre-loaded MP3 players like Playaway have risen to 3% of the market in the last year alone and have proved to be popular with US public libraries and the US military.

Meanwhile, CD sales in the US market have fallen from 78% in 2007 to 72% in 2008. Is this clear evidence that download is at last cannibalising physical-format sales? Interestingly, library sales are down in the US too, from 43% to just 32%. This could be due to library users migrating to download, or the result of funding cuts in the library sector, which has been hard hit since the US economy crashed.

Sadly, there are no up to date turnover figures available for the UK. The most recent figures published by the UK Audio Publishers Association showed that the UK audio market was worth £72 million retail in 2006/7. Download is now estimated by some to be worth 12-15% of the UK audio market, but there are no firm figures available to prove or disprove this.

In my previous life as Audio Publisher for Macmillan UK, I watched with ever increasing interest the exponential sales growth of our digital download sales in audio and quickly recognized the potential advantages that publishing in a digital-only format can offer:

Firstly, you have no expensive CD and print manufacturing costs, no stock inventory to fund, no warehousing charges to consider, no CDs or cassettes gathering dust, waiting to be shipped to (and from!) a high street retailer. Secondly, there are no expensive teams of key account managers or sales reps to be factored in. Thirdly - and best of all – there are no returns at the end of the line.

But what are the disadvantages of publishing in digital audio format alone?

Download is still not widely understood by a generation that favours the audiobook ; they will need convincing to move to this new format. Historically, the main demographic for audio book downloads has been the professional male in the 24 - 45 age bracket, although research shows this is beginning to change and, I suspect, will become more evenly split between male and female in the next few years.

In April 2007, Apple announced it had sold over 100 million iPods worldwide and that 70% of new cars now come equipped with an iPod integration system. Interestingly, research has compared users of the iPod touch with the iPhone and reported that 74% of users of the iPhone are over 24 years old and 70% male. Publishers need to bear this demographic in mind when tailoring their content to this market.

Customers tend to want unabridged products, which are expensive to produce - and the download market is still only a fraction of the CD retail market. It is a challenge to publish unabridged audio editions and make them economically viable when you factor in this market share and the low price points they sell for on download websites.

Publicity for audio downloads in the media (other than online social media) is almost impossible to come by and, most crucially of all, the digital market has a business model that most publishers find untenable and many consider unsustainable.

There is no doubt this one area of the digital market will be hotly debated and negotiated over the next few years, until we get the revenue split to a level that allows us all to make a decent return on our hard work and investment.

But if you keep your recording and production costs low (and it is possible if you know what you’re doing), keep a beady eye on your overheads, focus your publishing to target specific demographics, genres and customers, you might even find yourself with a lucrative bestseller, which quickly earns out and starts making a profit.

I was inspired by the opportunities in the digital market to ask Lorelei King, who is now my business partner, to invest our own hard earned money in the launch of Creative Content, which specialises in digital audio publishing.

One of CC’s launch titles was “Improve Your Speech - British English.” This book has been so successful in the download market, that at one point it was even outselling Barak Obama’s audiobook ,“Dreams of My Father,” on iTunes.

Creative Content have deliberately targeted our content to the professional male business traveller; as a result we have been particularly successful with our self-improvement titles.

We’ve worked incredibly hard, had the odd set back (like the global credit crisis!), but have already broken even - and made a small profit. We have doubled our publishing output this year and are now expanding into the eBook market - and we are continually on the hunt for new opportunities and outlets to sell our books…. online.

And you never know… one day soon, we might even make that million. Without spending two! - AM

photo by urbanwoodswalker

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