Juliette Garside for The Observer spoke with the head of HarperCollins UK about the wild shifts in the publishing industry over the last few years. Victoria Barnsley, CEO of the UK and international divisions, spoke eagerly about the hottest title coming from the publisher this year, and it’s not a book; it’s a tablet-based reading app, a complete reinvention of the well-known and once highly regarded Collins World Atlas. For one of the Big Six to place so much effort and emphasis on an app, the shift to digital has truly taken hold.
“We can’t think of ourselves as book publishers any longer,” Barnsley told The Observer. The publisher went on to explain that the world of publishing has changed more over the course of the last decade than in the hundreds of years before it.
The app itself appears to be a masterpiece, intended for both up-to-date research and casual reading. With a full complement of globes ready at the swipe of a finger, each globe will present different data to the reader, everything from geography to how much cell tower service is available in any given part of the world. And with nearly limitless space, the sheer amount of information readers can now have through the app far outshines the limits of an expensive, full-color print edition.
According to Garside, “HarperCollins appears to have wholeheartedly embraced the e-book revolution that followed the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle reader in the UK in 2009. Barnsley predicts that within 18 months, over half of revenues from her fiction titles will be digital: they already are in America. While sales of HarperCollins’s paper books are flat year on year at about £120m, according to Nielsen Bookscan, digital titles are up 250% and now account for 20% of UK income.”
A lot of the attention to ebook sales is driven by the agency pricing model that is currently being dragged through the courts in the US. Under that model, and assuming the court and Department of Justice continue to find no fault with the concept, publishers will be responsible for setting the prices of ebooks, rather than the retailers. That translates into a need for publishers to more closely follow and track the trends in book pricing and sales in order to stay on top of their revenues and on top of the publishing industry.