Winter Issues: International ‘Beyond the Book’ Looks at 2018 in Review

In News by Porter Anderson

Taking stock as the new year comes in, Copyright Clearance Center’s ‘Beyond the Book’ podcast series has a trio of 2018 look-back episodes.

A January night in New Delhi’s Main Bazaar. Image – iStockphoto: Diy

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Segmentation and Specialization’
The second of three 2018-in-review podcasts from Copyright Clearance Center’s (CCC) Beyond the Book series has been published today (December 31).

Depending on your position in the industry and interests in various issues, there may be material you’ll find worth looking into in this compilation of comments from the year’s weekly podcasts, put together by Christopher Kenneally, who is CCC’s director of relationship marketing.

In the first of the two 2018-in-review podcasts now—an installment called Publishing & Globalization in 2018—the voices heard from various points in the year are those of Vienna-based consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart; Taylor & Francis’ Nitasha Devasar, who is president of the Association of Indian Publishers; Susan Spilka and Simone Taylor from the Workplace Equity Project; and this reporter.

Wischenbart, best known for his direction of the annual Publishers’ Forum event from Klopotek in Berlin, and for various industry-metrics products, makes the argument that the multiplicity of storytelling formats prompted by digital developments in publishing suggests that the industry needs to embrace more activities than strictly reading as its core consumer experience.

A book or a story, he tells Kenneally, is consumed more readily today in “different ways, by listening and watching. It’s not one channel but many channels around. Also, the chatting about books occurs on social media between friends, in traditional media, anywhere. And we also have a multiplication of business models. Subscriptions suddenly bring books on par with what music has become” at least in how they may be sold to a consumer.

Rüdiger Wischenbart

“I don’t think that one will kill the other,” he says, “but I strongly believe, as in the other media environment, that what we really see is segmentation and specialization, where different modes and formats and different ways of distribution and different business models can coexist and will find very specialized target audiences who prefer one or the other.”

To inject at this point, however, an associated concern that began entering the discussion late in the year—helpfully brought to light in some of the FutureBook programming from The Bookseller in London—there may be another concern to consider around digital’s multiplicity of medium and format: when does the “segmentation and specialization” that Wischenbart rightly points up begin to work against the act of reading? And how much should publishing care?

It’s widely understood by many, not least by publishing’s players, themselves, that long-form, immersive reading is not as easy for most as it once was, and that competing means of a story’s delivery seem to be matching the tempo and tenor of the times better, perhaps, than the act of actually reading a book. The question is most easily called into sharp relief when we stop to consider the long-rising sales of audiobooks in many markets: while it’s obviously good for publishing that audio is selling well, could the industry be teaching consumers to read less by making listening so attractive now that the format has been reborn through downloads and streaming?

This may indeed become a more sharply defined point of debate in 2019. As December has drawn to a close, one publishing professional and biographer on a longstanding email discussion group shared with his correspondents that he has given up subscriptions to such cinematic services as Netflix “to force myself to focus back on books alone for entertainment.”

Nitasha Devasar

And from a panel discussion led by Kenneally at BookExpo in May, our own comments are included about the quickening transference of the “storytelling imprimatur”—from books to film and television—are included.

From that sequence: “It used to be that everything started with the book, and whether the film was good or bad, you came out wanting the book, right? Now, we have such fine, high-quality television coming through from Amazon Studios, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, all of them, that you get a very satisfying experience from just seeing a piece that was developed originally for television, that stays on television. No longer do you come out saying, ‘I must have the book.’ In publishing we have to keep remembering now is that our readership is someone else’s viewership and  someone else’s listenership.”

Also in this installment, Devasar—who is Taylor & Francis’ managing director for India and South Asia—speaks to the central challenge of working in the Indian market: “The key space we are trying to operate in is to build the value proposition of Indian publishing. It’s a significant part of global publishing, but somehow it hasn’t got that recognition in the Indian context.

“India is pushing itself to be a knowledge economy. What is the role that publishing plays in that? It’s a really important role that publishing plays. There’s a really important role of copyright in establishing a knowledge economy.”

Susan Spilka

And Spilka and Taylor from the Workplace Equity Project discuss their research into how “Our industry is known to have a majority-female workforce, male-dominated leadership, and a striking lack of ethnic diversity,” says Spilka.

“Studies show that around 60 percent of the workforce is female, over 85 percent is white, and 60 percent of the leadership is male. I think the Workplace Equity survey is going to find that the imbalances persist.

“We hope to gain some insight into why and identify some of what’s reinforcing the status quo. That said, we truly believe that our industry leaders want to change that equation. Change has to come from the top and from within—that’s how Workplace Equity fits in.”

‘Trust and Truth’

In the second year-in-review podcast—Digital Publishing Confronted Digital Challenges in 2018—Kenneally and another round of guests look at how trust and the truth “can’t be digitized.”

For this one, the program’s publishing parameters are widened so that comments can be included on nonprofit news media, the operations of the tech giants in the content space, educational publishing and its quality, and smartphone-driven audiobook sales.

Speaking are:

Ariana Tobin

Ariana Tobin of ProPublica: “For us, here at ProPublica, and, I think, for journalists in many other kinds of organizations, depending on what their mission is, what the expectation of their particular set of readers is, is just to stop and actually ask the question, ‘What would someone gain from clicking on this?’ To actually have to articulate that value proposition, of ‘This is the role that the story’s going to play in someone’s life, this is the value that they’re going to take away from it. However, they come to this story, here’s the thing that it could do for them at that moment in time.'”

Michiel Kolman, immediate past president of the International Publishers Association and a senior vice president with Elsevier: “We live in a world, I would say, of alternative facts, so trust in reliable, high-quality information is now even more important than ever before. And it’s the publishers around the world that have risen to this challenge and are publishing what I would call trustworthy information, as they have been doing for ages. That’s true for science publishers, for trade publishers, or educational publishers. It only illustrates the importance of publishing today.”

BJ Mendelson, author of Privacy and How to Get It Back (Curious Books, 2017): “The tech companies have done a wonderful job, fortunately for them, unfortunately for us, of painting themselves in this almost utopian kind of brush of being cuddly and friendly and promoting all these wonderful things. But the bottom line has always been since 1994, your data equals a whole lot of money, and they’ll do whatever it takes to get as much of it as they can.”

Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association: “The smartphone—we’ve all got one, we’ve all got audiobooks on them, and we’re starting to see a lot of activity around the smart speaker, like your Google Home device. A lot of people are listening in the evenings, listening to children’s stories, listening to audiobooks. This was the holiday for the smart speaker. So we’re expecting to see a lot of growth in that particular area.”

The third in the Beyond the Book trio of year-in-review installments is to be released on January 7.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Beyond the Book is here. And more on Copyright Clearance Center is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.