On 18th November 2020, we hosted our eighth Future Book Forum, the first to take place virtually. The year has posed challenges for many industries due to the impact of the global pandemic, so the focus of the event was to explore how COVID-19 has affected the publishing industry specifically, what we have learnt from it and what it means for our future.
We’ve all had to adapt and change in response to the changing economic and social backdrop, but the new challenges that presented themselves have also brought new opportunities. During the Forum we shared inspiring examples of how publishers have refocused their approach and adapted content to reach readers differently. Thanks to the latest advances in digital print technologies, book printers and publishers have the flexibility to adopt new business models that help them succeed in both the short and long-term.
With so many great success stories to share, here we summarise the three key takeaways from the publishing businesses that have survived and thrived:
1. Content consumption is evolving
Nick Morris and Rachel Ousley from consumer behaviour insights consultancy Canvas8 explained how 2020 has brought about a totally new culture and that, in times of crisis, information is power, so understanding the changes in attitudes is key for brands. They identified three emerging consumer behaviours and how digital is acting as an enabler. “As publishers we often think of digital as our arch-nemesis, but what we’re actually seeing is digital acting as an enabler to the publishing industry,” said Rachel. “Digital experiences are just a steppingstone that is leading readers to discover richer offline experiences. People have rediscovered the pleasure of reading during lockdown. 41% of Britons said they are reading more books than they were pre-lockdown.” Publishers needn’t fear digital, but should look at their business and trends in behaviour and adapt their business model accordingly.
One great example of a publisher that has taken on board these changes is Future PLC. Claire Maclellan, COO, examined how Future has adapted to the crisis, “There has never been a more difficult time for publishers than over the last six months and we continue to not really understand whether or not we will find stability.” Claire went on to explain that finding new ways to connect audiences with the content they could previously access was key to how Future has managed their business through the pandemic. As a result, the business has been able to take advantage of new opportunities, such as converting existing events into a virtual events portfolio, at which they’ve had 98,033 attendees to date. Future also transferred some of their content online, which has enabled them to grow and provide direct relationships with these audiences.
2. Gathering reader insight is key
Building on the direct relationship with readers, Tara Lajumoke and Harriet Wright from FT Strategies talked about why now, more than ever, a deeper relationship with consumers matters. The Financial Times lifted the paywall on its coronavirus coverage early in 2020, offering free-to-read content to keep everyone informed during the crisis. But what lies at the centre of the FT’s strategy is the data it holds about its readers. Tara and Harriet explained that by understanding their readers’ needs, pain points and behaviours, they were able to provide quality content and experiences, resulting in FT Strategies reaching its subscription goal for the entire year in just three months during lockdown. Tara explains, “Transforming the FT’s model meant that we could strengthen our service to our readers, but also gain financial resilience.” Publishers looking to thrive in the long-term must use consumer insight to market targeted products that deepen readers’ experiences.
3. The next chapter for book publishing is all about 'value'
Jesús Badenes, MD of the books division at Spanish publisher Planeta, led an ‘Innovation Accelerator’ session looking at what has changed, the importance of the physical book and the new value-added role it has to play. Jesús’s session summed up the crux of the event, which is that, with digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, publishers needed to consider how to take advantage of digital platforms and processes to make the books they create more desirable, especially through more innovative and tailored content. But this requires a more developed understanding of consumer behaviours and communities. As we’ve spoken about previously, exclusivity and desirability translate into demand and value.
2020 has certainly been a challenge for many businesses, and the publishing industry has had to find new ways to adapt. One of the overall messages that came from the Forum is of optimism and positivity, taking inspiration from the customer and business examples that now is the time for the publishing and bookselling industry to examine and change their business models to thrive.
Watch the video below to see the event highlights.