THE FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR was dominated by two themes this year: first that the growth in ebook sales is slowing and secondly that self publishing may become the new challenge to established book publishers.
And in a striking piece of good news for printers, Marcus Dohle, the CEO of freshly merged Penguin Random House, committed the publisher to the physical book. He told his audience: “Our basic strategic assumption is that print will always be important, always—not in 50 years or 100 years—always. And our digital business is of course [growing]. That is a very simple, but very important assumption. We are basically saying that even 100 years from now, the print business will be a big chunk of our business. It may be 70% percent. Today it’s 80% print and 20% digital. The buzz here at the fair is 95% digital and 5% print. But I think there is a clear misunderstanding. 80% is actually print today, and in our two biggest markets, North America and the UK the growth rates of digital are sort of flattening out a bit.
"SO WE STRONGLY BELIEVE THAT print will always be a big chunk of our business and it doesn't really matter whether we end up at 50% in the new world balance, at 60% percent, at 40% or whatever. Print will always be a big chunk for our business. That means that we will continue to invest in our print business heavily. We are not running away. We call it our zig-zag strategy. While many publishers run away from print, we continue to invest in print: While everybody goes zig, we go zag.”
The self publishing meme was helped by a separate conference, focussing on the future, taking place on the eve of the Book Fair to discuss these and other trends affecting the publishing business. On the HP stand there were presentations around the theme of the The Beauty of the Book. Francis Atterbury, Hurtwood Press, was on hand to explain the thinking behind the launch of Artisan Press a week before. This touches on HP’s title and on the drive towards self publishing by setting up a template driven books design for artists, designers, photographers and others to populate with their own imagery. There are three formats of book and three template styles to choose from. The books are printed on an HP Indigo 10000 and bound by hand at J Muir Bookbinding to provide the mix of new technology with the old craft skills to produce an enduring book that will last generations.
PUBLISHER FABER HAS ALSO TAPPED into the desire for traditional values, teaming up with the London Centre for Book Arts to produce small scale letterpress printed works. Faber is reaching back to its own heritage with celebrated book designer Bertholde Wolpe, whose hand press has recently come to light at the publisher. The first project will be four illustrated poetry broadsides which will be available through Faber’s website next month.
The self publishing sector has been dubbed Not for Sale publishing. In the US self publishing is reckoned to account for as much as 17% of the overall market. In France for example, it represents just 3% providing significant opportunities for growth. Most of the would be authors want to see their work as a traditional book, something than can prove expensive if the author engages proof reading and marketing skills as well as design and print.
FOR DOHLE THE PENDULUM SWING to digital editions is definitely weakening. In his 'audience with' session he reiterated: “What’s really interesting is I think that our markets in the US and the UK are sort of -- you know, the growth rates are flattening out a little bit—who would have thought that? At the sort of 25-percent-ish share? I think it's quite surprising. But we've always believed in print and we feel more encouraged and inspired as ever to invest in print because it will matter always.”