Digital Distribution Means Global, Not Local

In Feature Articles by Guest Contributor

By Andrew Savikas, vice-president, O’Reilly Media

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Within a few years (or sooner) more people will read the books we publish at O’Reilly Media in digital form than in print. While it won’t happen that quickly for other publishers, it will happen. That doesn’t mean that print books will go away — it just means that publishing will be about digital products that you might happen to sell in print, not print products that you might sell digitally.

One of the key characteristics of digital publishing is that it means publishing content that’s usually consumed while also connected to the Web. It means that content can be connected to the rich tapestry of hyperlinks and community that thrive on the Web. And, perhaps the biggest implication of publishing content that’s connected to the Web is that the Web is, of course,  a World Wide one. Publishing is quickly becoming a truly global business, brimming with opportunity for companies willing to adapt their thinking and their businesses.

Like many publishers, one of the reasons we attend fairs like Frankfurt and London is to sell the translation rights for our printed books. And I don’t expect that business to go away for anyone involved: Selling a translated print book successfully requires money to invest in the actual translation, it requires knowledge of the local market, and it requires the ability to fill the local retail supply chain. But for digital products, we are already in a world where a publisher can put their products for sale directly into the pockets of tens of millions of people in dozens of countries instantly. Digital books sold on the Web and through mobile devices have extended our reach into markets that are nearly impossible to serve efficiently in print.

As an example, we’ve recently begun selling many of our books directly on the iPhone through the “App Store.” And nearly 2/3 of the people buying those apps are from outside the US. Nearly half of the digital sales from our website are to customers outside the US. For many of our books in Google Book Search, the traffic from India is several times higher than from the US. Though we’re primarily an English-language publisher, digital distribution has given us the ability to expand the market for that English-language content worldwide.

Worldwide digital distribution channels also means the opportunity to reconsider those rights relationships forged in Frankfurt. There are real opportunities to collaborate with licensees on digital products that can be efficiently sold wherever there are native speakers, not just within the geographic boundaries of the existing print markets for those translations.

Looking even farther ahead, in 10 or 20 years there will be large opportunities in areas that lack a robust print retail and distribution infrastructure. In the same way that many parts of the world never bothered building out the infrastructure for landline telephones, many emerging markets will fast forward to digital as the primary distribution and consumption method for content, likely complemented with print on demand.

Opportunities and challenges like these mean it’s more important than ever to connect and collaborate with potential partners from around the world to understand how the changing digital and mobile landscape looks from their eyes, and to learn about the behavior and interests of consumers in places you can now reach profitably.

BROWSE: O’Reilly Media’s Web site

CONTACT: Andrew Savikas directly

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.