Digital Publishing Trends Survey for CAL Members.

Copyright Australia Limited

I’ve been keen to talk about these results since I attended the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) Future of Creativity Seminar last month. At that event Michael Lijic, responsible for International Affairs and Digital Strategy at CAL  gave us the top line summary of the results. I found them interesting as to date it’s the largest survey of its kind and gives us an understanding of the approach and thoughts of Australian Authors and Publishers to Digital Publishing.

CAL sent the questionnaire out in early May 2011 allowing two weeks for members to respond. A very nice carrot of five free iPads were offered to incentivise responses!

CAL sent the survey out to 14,000 of their members and just over 2,000 responded. They classified themselves as Publishers (403 responses, the majority being small independent or not-for-profit), Authors (1,284) and General (403), being CAL Members who were not Publishers OR Authors but had views or experiences with digital publishing.

One thing it is important to bear in mind when looking at the results is that it IS difficult in the digital age to define a publisher, when many authors self-publish. The way that CAL approached was to enable the respondents to self-identify in the first question, giving them some guidance by defining a publisher as “a publisher of books, journals, magazines, etc (either print or digital)” and then additionally allowing them to self-select in a (optional) question later in the survey.  This highlighted that a number (15%) did in fact identify as an author/publisher, highlighting the opportunity to refine the survey design next year.

Please see the CAL analysis here  to highlight key results and their interpretation. The full results can be viewed here (PDF).

Michael Lijic believes that the results are reflective of CAL members but notes that CAL does have a unique and diverse membership base. As they say in the CAL analysis – “it should be noted that CAL has a very broad membership base of almost 20,000 authors and publishers. This membership base has a significant crossover with the ASA (Australian Society of Authors) and APA (Australian Publishers Association), but the views of CAL members should not necessarily be seen as reflective of the membership base of other associations.”

Over 80% of the authors who responded were not ASA members and nearly 68% of the publishers who responded indicated they were not APA members. It’s great to get this input from CAL Members as a benchmark going forward. However it would be great if this Digital Trends Survey was conducted annually with the APA and ASA in order to attempt to receive a greater cross-section of Publishers and Authors responding.

Just over a quarter of publisher respondents do not yet have a digital strategy. I admit I come at this from a totally biased viewpoint, but I do find this concerning at this stage that this is the case. However, as a small publisher, or those in the not-for-profit sector (over 78% of publishers who responded to that question), finding time and resources to work on digital strategy may be the problem.

I find it less surprising that close to 55% of authors don’t have a digital strategy, but encouraging that nearly 20% of authors respondents are developing a strategy and that close to 10% believe that they are reacting to digital developments. I do believe there is an opportunity for authors to be assisted with a framework in drawing up a strategy, but perhaps even more importantly that they watch and react as opportunities present themselves. A small but important number DO have a digital strategy and they are to be commended!

Some publishers (a mere 63 admittedly) responded that “it’s not a priority for us” when asked why they hadn’t published ebooks or digital products. Again, this depends what side of the fence you sit on. Clearly I believe it should be a priority, as you need to gain and understanding of the processes and try to get your products in a format that will allow output to various devices. Some publishers just didn’t have the money to invest, and others believed there was not yet customer demand.

Over 45% of authors also felt it wasn’t a priority to write an ebook or digital product, and understandably the technical knowledge was also an issue for them. 18.6% or 133 authors responding indicated that their publisher doesn’t publish ebooks was the reason they hadn’t written a digital product. To me this shows that publishers need work on and implement a digital strategy, while I do acknowledge the challenges to actually do this.

There is a concern from publishers about their own lack of technical knowledge to publish digitally. However, publishers can work with partners on their digital strategy and implementation. It may be worthwhile for the industry to look at training in ‘how-to’ to hand-hold those smaller publishers who may not have the financial or human resources to research their options.

Other concerns that rated highly with both authors and publishers included market domination of large players, as well as piracy and lack of digital marketing skills. The APA ran a great training for publishers in Social Media Marketing in February 2011 as I reported here  but clearly some publishers either could not attend in either Sydney or Melbourne, or still feel there was a need for more training within their organisations. Some authors do feel the pressure about needing partake in social media marketing when they may feel they “just want to write” and I covered a bit about this in my blog post about Using the Twitterverse for Marketing or Research here. This plays out when over 38% of author respondents report Social Media is not important at all in their activities as a writer.

For the publishers who have not yet ventured into digital, 179 respondents, over a third believed it was not a priority, and just under a third of them lacked the technical knowledge. The lack of technical skills came through in a question about concerns about the digital publishing where publishers indicated they needed training, as well as concerns about digital marketing skills and competing against the big multinational distributors.

Opportunities were highlighted as lower cost base and access to new customers and international markets. Publishers also saw a benefit as the ability to develop new and innovative products, which doesn’t quite gel with concern about technical expertise as stated previously!

It’s great to see that both publishers and authors saw the trend to digital publishing as ‘a significant opportunity’!   Michael Lijic said:

“The primary reason CAL conducted this survey was to benefit our members. It’s their data – and as such we hope they analyze the results, discuss them and debate them. We are keen to hear our members’ comments and suggestions. Some of the media reaction to the survey so far has focussed on areas where some sections of our membership might be struggling, but I would hope that the results are viewed their entirety. I think that if you look at the results through a ‘big picture’ frame of reference, you will see a group of Australian authors and publishers who are largely optimistic about digital publishing and the opportunities it can bring.”

Michael Lijic , International Affairs and Digital Strategy, Copyright Agency Limited. 4 July 2011

I’m very interested to see this results and look forward to seeing further analysis as CAL releases them. It’s very beneficial for the Australian industry to start collecting information to understand the current thinking and benchmark as we move further forward.

I am NOT a specialist in analysing surveys, and any assumptions I’ve come are only my opinions and are based on my enthusiasm and support for digital development within the Australian publishing industry.

Let me know what you think in the comments field below and anything you think should be included in further surveys of Digital Publishing Trends.

Again, links to the CAL analysis can be found here and the full survey results here.

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