Canon SA has issued an interview with Peter Fisk, a global thought leader on growth, leadership, innovation and marketing. Fisk said publishers need to take the lead in using data to drive intelligent growth. Speaking at the Future Book Forum in Poing, Germany, in November, he discussed how to embrace the power of data to create more personal, predictive and profitable consumer experiences with the printed book at their heart.
The theme of this year’s Future Book Forum was ‘intelligent growth’. What does that mean to you in the context of publishing?
Talking about ‘intelligent growth’ is the culmination of a five year journey to define a better future for the book. We started out at the Future Book Forum in 2014 by imagining a future in which publishers, printers, authors and readers could work together to create more inspiring, profitable experiences. In 2015, we looked at how the changing world of the consumer might influence this. In 2016, we considered possible new business models. Then, in 2017, we explored the idea of the ‘smart book’, which places the printed book at the centre of a tailored, multi-platform package that offers seamless access to complementary content. Intelligent growth is about bringing a variety of engaging and interactive formats together to create more personal, predictive and profitable book-related experiences.
Data, in all its forms, has the potential to transform the publishing industry and thereby drive growth. With more players today than ever before, the industry has access to more data than ever before. The challenge is to decide which data to use, how to make sense of it and how to use it to rethink your business.
Whether it is data about the consumer, inventory, retail sales or the content itself, it all provides us with an opportunity to be more intelligent about how we commission, create, develop, publish, sell and then sustain books to enable business growth over time.
Seizing this opportunity demands a shift of both mindset and business model. We are moving away from a world in which the launch of a physical book to readers was the conclusion of the process. We’re now looking at one where the printed book is at the heart of an ongoing omnichannel consumer experience that engages and immerses the reader in a variety of ways and encourages an extended content journey. The whole industry will need to work together to make this happen and publishers have an opportunity to take the lead.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for publishers in achieving this?
Communities are the most important assets publishers have, yet many don’t actually talk to their consumers, as they don’t have a direct channel for communication. There’s a tendency in publishing to talk about ‘readers’ as if they are somehow distant and to view each book as stand-alone item. In reality, readers are consumers. If you shift your mindset to think of them in those terms then they move from being the reader of a single book to a consumer of interests and you can start to engage with them in more ways, reach them across more touchpoints and ultimately drive growth by leveraging the communities they form around specialist topics and genres.
By viewing consumers more holistically, you can provide them with a better experience, but you also have the potential to sell to them more often or sell them more valuable experiences. If they’re a fishing enthusiast, buying a fishing expert’s new book, for example, they might also be interested in a series of talks on fishing in remote locations, subscription to a newsletter featuring exclusive content or an upgrade to a limited edition signed copy of the book, all interesting potential sources of extended revenue for the publisher.
How can publishers use data to provide their communities with better experiences and how can this drive business growth?
We’re seeing an increasing fragmentation of markets into special interest areas, such as education, business, cookery and travel. In these areas, the physical and digital worlds are converging more quickly because audiences that are passionate about a topic will engage with it more readily across multiple platforms. Incidentally, this is also what is driving the growth of ‘smart books’ in specialist areas.
Data can help us to understand who makes up these communities, what they’re most engaged with and how best to connect with them. After that, the key is to take content and use it in different ways across different platforms – print, online, email, video, podcasts, events and more – to enhance the consumer’s experience and build a sustainable relationship, much as retailers and marketers do. That relationship is where business growth comes from – the more you learn about what consumers value, the more valuable the experience that you can provide to them will be and the more they will be willing to pay for it.
LID publishing offers a good example of a publisher building long-term relationships with consumers. In addition to its catalogue of business books, LID has launched a regular podcast on Spotify, promotes a network of speakers specialising in business topics and offers online training courses. Physical books remain at the centre of this, but the emphasis has been on building a community.
You mentioned ‘smart books’, which were a focus at the Future Book Forum in 2017. Would you say they are gaining more traction in the market?
This is an ongoing journey. In some segments, we are seeing increasingly widespread adoption of true ‘smart books’, where physical and digital platforms work together to enhance how the consumer accesses information as they need it. In education, for example, school books in some countries are now regularly customised according to individual needs, based on student performance data from ongoing testing.
We’re also seeing it in some segments of the consumer world. Considerably less so in mainstream fiction, but certainly in special interest segments. In travel, for example, you might have a travel guide augmented by web and social media content and discussion forums that enable the reader to find out more than they might from the physical book alone.
How can technology help publishers to leverage their relationships with consumers?
In the past, a book was launched on a set date and that was the end, but that doesn’t work anymore. Today content needs to be customisable or available from different places to be assembled for someone as it’s needed. To meet the needs of consumers in a more personal, predictive and profitable way, publishers need to shift to more on-demand models enabled by digital print. We can now use data to predict who is going to need what when, so it’s essential to be able to print exactly what someone wants right when they want it.
Amazon’s success lies in its long-tail approach of having a book readily available at any time. But taking it one step further, Amazon’s ‘book recommendations’ feature is an early example of artificial intelligence, understanding what a user has ordered before and using that data to predict what they might be most interested in reading next. Having efficient and intelligent technology systems in place can help publishers become more proactive and better predict where, when and how books will be needed.
What do you hope attendees achieved or learned at Future Book Forum 2018?
The publishing industry has numerous fantastic opportunities to grow through innovation by using data to drive more profitable growth. Innovative publishers aren’t waiting, but ultimately the whole publishing ecosystem will need to work together to make this happen. The Future Book Forum is fundamental in providing a forum to learn from, be inspired by and collaborate with each other.