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"The future of publishing is not about technology or widgets or free samples; the future of publishing is about giving readers what they want."
— Kassia Krozser, Booksquare.com, September 17, 2008
This study has explored the world of audiobook and eBook publishing from a number of different perspectives. We have considered how changing consumer demand and new technologies are shaping the marketplace, and we have looked at how publishers, retailers, and libraries are responding—along with other players in the digital value chain.
The digital marketplace will continue to develop in unpredictable ways and on an uncertain timeline. At the end of the day, however, book readers will no doubt have the final word on how the audiobook and eBook markets take shape in the years ahead.
Book buyers and library patrons are clearly drawn to easily accessible, broad collections of audiobooks and eBooks. For their part, book publishers and retailers and other service providers are learning how to provide digital content when, where, and how readers want to have it—whether that means selling copies of audiobooks in bookstores, delivering downloadable editions of audiobooks or eBooks to online retailers, or creating new flexible publishing platforms that allow readers to custom-design their own books. In the process, the supply chain is encountering better success at selling digital books and in using digital content—particularly through online search and sampling programs—to drive sales of both print and electronic editions.
The emergence of bona fide digital markets for books presents a number of compelling opportunities for trading partners throughout the supply chain, and, naturally, some challenges as well. Fundamentally, trading in digital content is a new type of business for all concerned, and there is a need for training and process development throughout the industry. At the same time, the digital marketplace needs effective standards that are pervasive, open, and agile enough to encourage both consumer adoption as well as buy-in throughout the supply chain. Finally, participation in the digital book market requires both up-front and ongoing investments to refine production workflows, digitize publishers' backlists, and establish trading relationships with service providers and distributors.
Given our focus on the Canadian marketplace, we have naturally considered the availability of Canadian content in sales channels for digital books. While there is relatively little Canadian content at the moment, the online channels that are emerging as the dominant distribution medium for audiobooks and eBooks will likely yet play an important role in ensuring the availability of a wide selection of Canadian-authored books for Canadian readers. Part of the solution will come over time as the global systems of multinational publishers develop to allow books originating with Canadian subsidiaries to be integrated more quickly and easily.
More broadly, the smaller Canadian-owned firms that produce the majority of Canadian-authored books will need targeted funding assistance in order to train their staff, develop their production processes, digitize their catalogues, and bring their digital editions to market.
These firms have limited staff resources and also limited access to capital and so run the risk of being left out of emerging digital markets without some targeted industrial supports in this area.
A similar condition exists within Canada's public libraries. Libraries across the country will need assistance in developing and implementing service standards for circulating digital content, training staff, building digital collections, and promoting these new services to library patrons.
While funding is part of the answer here, we believe that Canadian trading partners of all types can also benefit greatly from expanded collaborative initiatives that support the production and distribution of digital books. There have already been some notable first steps toward partnerships between publishers and among publishers' associations, as well as between libraries, publishers, non-commercial producers, service providers, and retailers. The potential of these early efforts—and the great potential of further work in this area—is that such partnerships can support an exchange of knowledge and skills development among these various players; they can allow producers (and others) to achieve the economies of scale that the digital marketplace demands; and they can smooth the way for new processes and standards.
To sum up, the significance of supporting expanded Canadian participation in the digital marketplace is simply this: today's book consumers and readers are presented with a vast selection of books. They have more choice than at any other time in history, and they can access those choices more quickly and more easily than ever before. While there is every indication that consumers continue to have large appetites for media and culture products, there is also more and more product competing for their attention with every passing year.
In such an environment, the amount of time required to search for, discover, and acquire books must be reduced. The process of finding out about, selecting, and then actually getting the book—in the format the consumer needs or prefers—must be as easy and attractive as possible. Those books that can be more easily discovered and acquired will earn their share of consumer attention; those that are not will increasingly be left on the shelf.
In this sense, the digital opportunity for Canadian publishers, libraries, retailers, and readers is not simply a question of a new sales channel, an innovative format, or an additional way to serve customers. Rather, it is a fundamental aspect of both competitiveness and inclusiveness in today's cultural marketplace, and it is an opportunity that is here today.