As the trays of cheese and wine begin to circulate for this autumn's book launch season, one of the UK's biggest publishing houses will be pinning its hopes not on a hardback, but on an app designed for tablet computers.
celebrity autobiographies from Victoria Pendleton and Cheryl Cole, and
John Major's history of music hall, HarperCollins will be unveiling a
digital reinvention of the Collins World Atlas. "It's the
culmination of years of work, and it's going to be really
ground-breaking," says Victoria Barnsley, UK and international chief
executive of the book publishing arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
app presents a collection of globes suspended in space. One shows a
satellite view; others are themed by population, energy or
telecommunications. A few swipes, and the world lights up according to
which areas have mobile coverage, or consume most oil. The information
is, of course, always up to date.
"We can't think of ourselves as
book publishers any longer. We have to see ourselves as, you know,"
Barnsley hesitates to use the cliché, "multimedia content producers."
flower-scented Hammersmith office, with its plush upholstery and
charcoal-grey walls so dark the eyes have to adjust, is a world away
from the warehouses across town on east London's Silicon Roundabout,
where most new digital products are being produced.
But 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.
With self-published 50 Shades of Grey
author EL James as its poster child, romantic fiction is by far the
biggest-selling digital category. Nearly half of sales at
HarperCollins's Avon imprint, which specialises in the genre, are now in
e-book format. It has responded with a me-too 50 Ways to Play and the revival of a 10-year-old title, The Bride Stripped Bare, but more importantly with "dynamic pricing".