Copyright Agency Limited releases results from digital publishing trends survey

The full article is here but I thought I’d pick out the key points and comment on them as it makes for interesting reading. And you know how I like to comment on stuff. CAL conducted a survey of members to learn more about their views of, and experiences with digital publishing in Australia. Over 2,000 CAL members responded, making this survey the largest of its kind in the Australian publishing environment. The survey was sent to all CAL members, ranging from international publishers to self-published authors, asking about their digital experiences and thoughts on the future.

Here are the key findings, in bold, with my comments after:

Both authors and publishers think the benefits of digital publishing far outweigh any of the downsides

I think this is a given now. There are very few people left, I think, who see digital publishing as a problem.

Around half of all authors and publishers create digital products

This surprised me – I thought it would be more by now. But more on that lower down.

The majority of publishers are still developing their digital strategies

This is not really a problem, but I see it more as a reaction to a rapidly changing environment. I think publishers will be constantly developing their digital strategies to keep up. It’s not something that will settle for a long time yet.

Only 15% of publishers have a competitively differentiating digital strategy

This is a problem. Digital needs to be seen as something different to the standard, existing print model of publishing and has to be treated differently. Publishers are already being left behind due to a resistance to accept this change and the longer they prevaricate, the harder it will be to catch up. Which they will inevitably have to do.

To date, 26% of publishers have no digital strategy at all

This is astounding! Just over a quarter? This is fiddling while Rome burns. It’s playing bowls while the Spanish Armada hoves into view. It’s foolish in the extreme to simply ignore the digital publishing revolution. Whether you like it or not, it is happening. It’s going to continue happening. It’s not a passing fad. There will be paper books and traditional publishing for a long time yet, but e-publishing is racing to catch up and will be rolling alongside as completely mainstream very soon.

To digress slightly, there seems to be a large proprotion of people that ask: Are you into paper books or ebooks? It’s not an either/or situation. I regularly buy both. I enjoy both. The vast majority of readers will be the same. But there are a lot of things now that I’ll buy as an ebook that I would never have bothered with in print – for cost, storage and ease of reading reasons – which makes the combination of print and digital far better than simply one or the other. Videos didn’t kill cinema, television didn’t kill radio. Ebooks won’t kill print publishing. But to completely ignore the rise of digital and have no strategy for it as a publisher is idiotic.

Digital publishing currently contributes less than 5% to the income of most authors and publishers – however, around 10% of authors and 14% of publishers currently make more than half their income from digital publishing

These are slightly rubber stats, but interesting nonetheless. Overall, the 5% figure stands, but that will be growing and will continue to grow until it is a much larger number. I’d say the authors and publishers making more than half their income from digital are the self-published, indie publishers and small press. And they will continue to grow in number as well. The digital options now make self-, indie- and small press publishing far more viable options than they ever were before and that’s very exciting.

Lower costs and improved access to markets are the greatest benefits for authors and publishers alike

See above.

Technical expertise, market dominance of multinationals and piracy are the three concerns shared by authors and publishers

This is no real surprise and is always going to be the case. Keeping up with technology and feeling the pressure from the “big guys” is a concern in all forms of business. From the corner store threatened by the massive super mall, to the indie music label threatened by the big labels, to the cottage industry threatened by the conglomerates. It’s always a battle in a capitalist environment. And piracy is something that affects all creative industries – film, music, television and publishing. Hell, I remember borrowing my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons rule books and spending hours photocopying them in the school library, because I couldn’t afford to buy my own.

But remember – the only thing worse than piracy is obscurity. It’s not going anywhere and we have to accept it as part of the digital landscape.

Low-level technical skills are the most significant barrier to market entry

I think this is more a fear than a reality. Anyone who suggested this has probably not tried to publish digitally because they think they won’t be able to. It’s actually bloody easy, and getting easier all the time.

Authors and publishers share some common views in relation to e-book royalties

Well, that’s good. We need to see the explanation to understand this point. So, from the original article:

Even in the contentious area of e-book royalties, authors and publishers shared some common views. No doubt there was some divergence of opinion, but the differences were by no means extreme. Similar numbers of authors and publishers (16.9 and 17.8%, respectively) thought e-book royalties should be set in the range of 11-20% of net receipts. Another 16% of authors and 13% of publishers thought that range should be 21-30%. Unsurprisingly a large cluster of authors (16.3%) felt the range should be 41-50% (whereas only 4% of publishers agreed). Interestingly, only 14.3% of authors felt the royalty should be 51% or greater. It should also be noted that when asked about the topic of ebook royalties, there was a significant proportion of both authors (24.3%) and publishers (38.8%) who chose not to express an opinion.

I think you’ll also find that a lot of authors are seriously considering retaining their e-rights and self-publishing their digital catalogue, so the percentage of royalties to a publisher becomes moot. But, speaking personally, if my publisher will cover all the technical aspects of design, layout, editing and so on, and leave me to write, I’m happy to split the royalties, just like regular publishing. Percentages will vary a lot, as they already do with print.

2/3 of CAL members believe that digital sales will eventually overtake print for the Australian publishing industry as a whole

And I agree with them. As I’ve said many times before, print will not die, but it will become boutique to some degree. Plus, does Print On Demand count as digital or print? Because the vast majority of paperback sales are likely to be POD before too long, in my opinion.

Of all the 2,090 CAL members surveyed, almost 19% own an iPad and over 12% own a Kindle

Given the supposed resistance to the rise of digital publishing, these are very revealing figures. There are also a lot of other ways to read ebooks and I don’t know if those were covered. It’s happening and only a handful of grumpy old bastards are really complaining.

These are exciting times and we should be enjoying the greatest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg press!

Go to the original article on the CAL site and have a read. Especially check out the italicised comments at the end. So, what do you think?


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19 thoughts on “Copyright Agency Limited releases results from digital publishing trends survey

  1. Seems a bit lopsided in some regards. For example, 20% of respondents own an Ipad? And hence, presumably, buy and read ebooks? Is that representative of the broader public at all? What are the figures for ebook take-up? As we’ve discussed before, it’s not for me, but I’m deeply dubious about the future of mass-marketed ebooks. Sell-published seems more of a goer to me.

  2. With regard to the iPad, it’s authors and publishers that were surveyed, so fair to assume they would have some contact with ebooks through the iPad. But more to the point, they have the tech to make it possible, whether they do or not.

    Mass-marketed ebooks are already here. They already make up a massive proportion of sales for all authors, not just the self-published.

  3. I will point out that tech such as ipads, kindles, etc rely on good times economically so people keep spending. And I did say the future, not the present!

  4. That’s debateable. A Kindle costs just over $100, or around the same as ten paperbacks. Or five paperbacks in Australia! Ebooks are cheaper than print books. Net result is a saving overall once the cheaper ebooks have covered the cost of the Kindle. Plus, Kindles, iPads and everything else are rapidly droping in price. They don’t rely on economic good times any more than books in general do.

  5. Quick search on ebay. Kindles $200, which you then still have to buy books for- at $12 a pop based on the (actual paper) book I’m reading now. When I bought my copy for $3 second hand. As I’ve said before, good luck if you can make a buck out of it, but I won’t be flogging my shelves any time soon.

  6. Not true – where did you search? Kindles are $139 for basic wifi. Ebooks are anything from 99c up, with most mass market books in the $5 to $10 range. And all prices are falling. You’re not into ebooks, which is fair enough. But don’t fudge the figures to support your perspective.

  7. I’m not surprised that a quarter of publishers have no digital strategy. Not all types of books are suitable or desirable as ebooks. Big, glossy coffee table books, for instance. Limited edition hardbacks of classics. Dictionaries (nobody will buy a digital one when there are online ones for free, but you might still buy a physical copy for the convenience). Educational books for schools – while schools may eventually change to digital it does rely on them being able to afford an ereader per student (extra tough ones for younger children).

    Most publishers are small, specialist publishers and some will, for various reason, gain no benefit or can’t afford the initial set-up/conversion cost of digital.

  8. Interesting reading, thanks.

    I must admit I am not sure how Australian published ebooks will go, unless significant price changes are made. Thinking in terms of imported content there.
    I have only brought some Oz pubbed M&B so far, with most of my (large) ebook collection coming from e-pubs and self pub. I’m just not that keen to spend the asking $ I’ve seen on the few others I’ve seen.

    PS. My ereader cost $200, I scrimped for that mofo, best investment ever! Instant gratification for the win. 😀

  9. Trudi – You’re right, a lot of educational, academic and non-fiction books don’t lend themselves well to digital publishing right now. But they will have to eventually, in one way or another. But, as I’ve said before, there will always be print publishing and a place for print only releases.

    Kane – why go to eBay and pay too much? Kindle, direct from Amazon, for $139. And the prices are dropping rapidly.

    Edie – Your ereader would probably be cheaper now, right? And the price of ebooks themselves is probably the most contentious issue surrounding digital publishing and one that is being driven further and further by consumer demand. That and format, but ePub seems to be rising, with even the Kindle accepting ePub soon.

  10. Also, I talked to CAL via Twitter and they confirmed that a lot of respondents were academic and non-fiction publishers, so that would account for the high percentage with no digital strategy. But it’s still a mistake, in my opinion, and a big one.

  11. I was considering those consumers living in remote areas with limited access to electricity and internet access. Though they’d seriously benefit from such technologies, there is little in the way of options for these folks. They are pretty much stuck with dead tree editions.

  12. I am glad you noted that there are other ways to read ebooks. I read them for years on my cell phone before I purchased my first e reader device. now I alternate between my phone and my Nook, the industry is still in flux, especially with drm, but I think soon there will the more compatibility between devices. For now I stick to epub and pdf.

    Also I’m not sure if podiobooks count in this category…

  13. Dianne – they are in some ways. But the opportunities for loading up ereaders with books and sending them to remote places without bookshops is exciting. For example, Operation Ebook Drop, which is doing exactly that for troops in the field.

    ganymeder – I read on my iPhone for years before finally getting a Kindle. And podiobooks and other forms of podcasting fiction is a whole other consideration!

  14. My blog posts get autoposted to Facebook. Here’s an interesting comment on the Facebook post from Stephen Barr:

    “Fascinating stuff.As a ex Music Industry executive who is trying to make a mark in the publishing world I can tell you I have a serious case of deja vu.I find most of the comments stifling the debate about e books and denying the enormous impact the digital onslaught are mostly based on trivial matters…Kindle,IPad, E Books and E Commerce it’s all here and now and with the exception of niche large “coffee table” books digital sales will within 5 years go from 5% to over 50% and beyond.The book world has had the good fortune to witness the demise of the Muisc industry.The musc industry was the proverbial digital “lab rat” for the entertainment world.How can the publishing world fail to learn from such a mighty fall of a once culturaly central music business that now a commercail backwater.”

  15. I actually love CAL; they do so much for Arts in Australia. I feel there are many positives in this report. My only wish is the uptake of all things digital was greater in Australia.

    I see the advantages of the technologies that are released in the US and then wait a year for them to hit our shores. I know the US is a market to itself but I do wish more Australians would think like an American, but not in everything, I say just holding my head up through GFC II.

  16. We are a backwater, that’s true. But I like to look at it a different way: The rest of the world are our beta testers.

  17. As a lover of books I found the comment ‘As a lover of actual books I find the virtual book revolution sad and threatening.’ sad and threatening.

    I agree with your ‘not either or, but both!’ attitude. I think this is a renaissance of books, an explosion of excitement and potential for massive enhanced portable libraries in ebooks, and beautifully crafted real-world books (dead tree books? what the hell do we call paper books these days?).

    People who whinge about books and writing being dead whilst surrounded by the ultimate evidence against that statement really piss me off. /rant truncated

  18. Couldn’t agree more.

    On the subject of names, I was on a panel with Robert Silverberg at Worldcon last year (yeah, name-dropping for the win!) and I was recounting the story of how a reader had approached me and we got to talking about ebooks. The person had read my stuff in ebook form and asked me when I thought would we stop referring to books and ebooks and start referring to books and p-books.

    Robert Silverberg groaned like he’d been quietly stabbed in the kidney with a stiletto knife.

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