Digital change and future-proofing
Hal Robinson explores
five ways that digital technology can improve publishing businesses beyond
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown
have brought unimagined challenges to independent publishers. But, innovators
to the core, we are developing digital habits that can continue to serve us in
our ‘new normal’ lives.
Social isolation imposes a
new kind of reality, in which digital media dominate our days. We’re also
increasingly conscious of our working relationships, which can be taken for
granted in the office. We notice their absence and try harder to maintain them
when we can. And we appreciate the value of books more and more. Amid all the disruption,
the essentials of publishing haven’t changed: helping authors find their
audiences; meeting readers’ needs for information, stimulation, rich engagement
and having fun; and maintaining the culture and diversity of the world we love.
All these are as vital as ever—perhaps even more so.
Although nothing can
compensate for the breakdown of sales and distribution systems, nor replace the
vitality of face to face creative meetings, there is a lot that independent
publishers can do in the current circumstances. And while future proofing can’t
be guaranteed, many digital tools are available to help us to prepare for the
times ahead. The use of digital tools and techniques can be split into five
areas, which are linked and inter- dependent.
The first is using digital media for
communicating as much as possible with everyone who is part of our world of
books. Keeping up with colleagues online improves focus, and booksellers will
be pleased to hear from you. Find all the digital ways you can to communicate
with readers: ask what they think and discuss what they would like the future
Developing ways to sell directly helps
both find and serve your readers. Direct selling keeps you in touch with your
market, your readers and commercial partners when other doors are closed. And
when doors open again, you’ve established an additional digital sales channel
you can build on.
Using social media helps readers learn
more about who you are. Social media are not only for selling but also for
asking, encouraging, connecting, talking and enthusing about books. Social
media are where your community comes to meet you, especially during lockdown, so
encourage responses and create a dialogue.
Finding opportunities for collaboration,
about books or other initiatives, has benefits too. The people who work in your
world make an ecosystem where business interests coincide and align, so look
for common benefits and shared solutions. Curiously, it may even be easier to
think about this in the digital environment than face to face. Team up with
your authors, illustrators and readers, and make your website a meeting place: a
culture hub, where anyone in your world can have fun and play, in a virtual
space that just happens to have your wonderful books all around.
The digital world thrives on communities.
In publishing, this means readers who share interests with each other and with
you. This is particularly valuable in lockdown when real community interaction
isn’t possible. The strongest online communities are typically niche interest
areas, where fascination is stoked and shared. Find the fans of what you
publish, reach the communities where they share their interests, and talk to
them directly. Publishers can use the role of community facilitator to build a
brand that shows you care about your readers; in return they will care about
you. Such communities can also evolve into new marketplaces, which you can make
Hal Robinson is a publishing consultant and
former CEO of Librios.