Returning to its former home at Soho’s prestigious Club at the Ivy, Byte The Book welcomed a varied panel of industry experts for the first of its April events. Steve Connolly (Digital Director, Hodder Education), Andy Blustin (Head of Business Development, Digital Partnerships, BBC Worldwide), Susan Bolsover (Licensing and Consumer Products Director, Penguin Random House) and Jason Haynes (Head of Business to Business Enablers, Vodafone) gathered to discuss how publishers can find hidden treasure in their content, chaired by editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson and sponsored by Ixxus and the Copyright Clearance Center.
The illustrious panel in front of the iconic Ivy windows (left to right): Jason Haynes, Andy Blustin, Porter Anderson, Susan Bolsover and Steve Connolly.
Porter opened the floor with a quote from author, producer and Byte The Book member Jeff Norton: “TV is now the dominant medium of culture.” This, said Porter, was pretty much indisputable, but what does it mean for the publishing industry? Susan Bolsover, who spent ten years working for film studios and TV production companies before joining the licensing department at Penguin Random House, argued that despite the continuing dominance of television, publishers are “the last bastion of great content” and have a “unique talent for spotting great storytelling”. The challenge for publishing companies, she said, is to find new and innovative ways of communicating those stories, so we don’t get left behind. “Many of you in this room might be horrified at the idea of branded lunch boxes and duvets,” she pondered, “but when people love a brand, they want to connect with it in multiple ways.”
All five panellists agreed that the defining challenge for content providers in 2018 is the competition for the customer’s time. “Everyone is competing over time,” said Jason Haynes, “but people are also changing the way they spend their time.” He brought up the example of Twitch, the definitive live-streaming platform for sports content. “In 2017,” he explained, “Twitch carried three billion minutes of people watching other people play games, boasting fifteen million active viewers per month.” These are staggering statistics, and they contain potentially vital lessons for the publishing industry. “Platforms like Twitch create vibrant communities around their content,” continued Jason, “encouraging lots of social interaction.”
Animated discussion from the panel.
Steve Connolly, meanwhile, spoke of the importance of trend-spotting, highlighting the recent audio boom – enabled by the invention of the smartphone – as a prime example. “Being a futurist is difficult,” he said, “but the rewards can be enormous. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Amazon are brilliant at noticing trends early on, and they make a special effort to understand their consumers. We’re not so good at that in publishing.” Steve admitted that Amazon’s massive financial brawn allows them to take chances most companies would shy away from; however, he concluded, “when they win, they win big”.
A rapt and amused audience.
So, asked Porter, what’s the key challenge for publishers in this crowded content marketplace? “Branding and discoverability,” replied Andy Blustin, who has worked on beloved BBC shows from Dr Who to Planet Earth.“When it comes to directing consumers to content they’ll enjoy, the power of the brand is all-important.” He also pointed to the central role that data plays in today’s entertainment industry. “Access to data is everything,” he stressed, “which is precisely why Netflix and Amazon ask you to sign in before using their services.”
In conclusion, the world is changing, and if the publishing industry wants to compete with the heavyweights, we need to change with it. Or, as Porter put it, paraphrasing marketing provocateur Tom Goodwin: “Book publishing is not in the text industry anymore, and it’s not in the reading industry … it’s in the what-do-people-want-to-spend-their-time-doing industry.”
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