Tomorrow: when the digital war began

Adjunct Associate Professor Peter Donoughue says publishers need to be e-ready by the end of 2011.

Australian publishers have 12 months to get their digital infrastructure in place or suffer the consequences, publishing veteran Peter Donoughue has warned.

Since the Amazon Kindle reinvented e-reading, the low buzz of digital apprehension within the book trade has grown to a dull roar. Now, as bets are being taken on whether the paperback ends up as a rare gift, a history exhibit or a kitty tray liner, the message for stakeholders is clear:

Get digital, and get there now.

Following on from his address on digitial publishing at the University of Queensland last month, Donoughue said: “2011/2012 are going to be critical turning points, I think.

“Unless you’ve got all [digital] systems – all the production systems, all the marketing promotion, all the skill sets from staff – in place by the end of 2011, you’re seriously going to be behind the eight ball.”

Though it wasn’t the first e-reader out there, the Amazon Kindle was the first to make e-books an attractive and affordable alternative to print.

‘Skilling up’ was high on the to do list at The Digital Revolution: Publishing in the 21st Century symposium earlier this year too.

Chief Executive Officer of London publisher Faber and Faber Stephen Page told delegates: “You have to integrate digital into the thinking of every single person in your organisation. You cannot have pockets of resistance.”

Watch Page’s full speech here:

Head of Digital Publishing at Allen & Unwin Elizabeth Weiss said one of the biggest challenges would be effectively promoting and publicising books in an environment where mainstream media was becoming increasingly difficult to access.

Despite the rise of digital self-publishing (thanks largely to Smashwords, Seth Godin and Andrew Wylie), Weiss said publishers were critical to that process.”There’s an awful lot of talk on the airwaves about ‘well, you know authors can go out and do it themselves’,” Weiss said.

“Yes they can, but if they want to do it effectively, it turns into a job.”

Although Allen & Unwin started their digital preparations “many years ago”, Weiss said they were still investing.

“[Y]ou could say the company has been out of pocket for quite some time in this area, but necessarily so,” she said.

Weiss said one of the difficulties was the need to maintain their traditional print business.

The list of e-reading devices is set to grow, Donoughue says. And publishers had better be ready for them.

Donoughue cautioned publishers not to protect “older businesses” at the expense of e-books.

“There’s going to be a plethora of e-devices, so in two years time you’ve just got to be there and you’ve got to be aggressively marketing your e-books, I think,” he said.

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