The Digital Minds Conference

Once again, the London Book Fair 2017 was preceded by the Digital Minds Conference

One of the most interesting sessions at the conference was entitled Children and Young Adult consumers: reaching them safely and effectively.  It particularly addressed the thorny issue of when it is appropriate to consider children to be consumers.  Matt Locke of Storythings said that recent research conducted by the BBC shows that only 17% of web users are now ‘passive’; 10% – 15% ‘curate’ content (i.e., create blogs, etc.) and the rest engage with it (for example, by contributing to Twitter or writing comments on blogs).  Joe Godwin of the BBC said that there was nothing new about treating children as consumers; what was more important was to distinguish between children and young people.

In the case of children, we mustn’t think that, because they’ve got Smartphones and Facebook accounts, they can be held responsible for purchasing decisions and content choices in the same way that adults can.  Roy Edmonds of Nickelodeon said that, in order to protect children from inappropriate pressure from commercial companies, we need to think differently.  The challenge for publishers is that they tend to segment products in a very focused way, whereas children use social media to chat with their peers, rather than to engage with brands.  Joe Godwin added that, although of course children have to be protected from the undesirable elements that they can encounter via the internet, their parents should be encouraged not to panic too much about a child’s use of technology.  It is rather a question of the publisher’s developing content, including marketing collateral, that is age-appropriate and will offer directions and signposts that children can find.  At the same time, the publishing industry needs to help parents more and accept that it also has a responsibility towards children on the net.

A further panel session was entitled Subscription Models: Pros and Cons.  It was about the relatively new trend of selling trade e-books via subscription models.  Andrew Weinstein, of Scribd, said that Scribd had been launched as a committed subscription service for consumers.  Subscribers pay $1 per month and publishers are paid per download.   Scribd works closely with HarperCollins, which has made its growth possible by making so many HarperCollins backlist titles available in e-format.  Nick Perrett of HarperCollins said that he had supported the Scribd initiative because ‘it is very difficult to find a segment of consumers who will not pay’.  Once you believe this, the next question to be answered is, what is the right package, and therefore how big is the opportunity?  He added that, over the past seven years, HarperCollins has progressed from deriving no sales via the internet to getting about 60% of them online.  There is a rapid shift taking place from what was essentially a trade structure to what is now becoming a consumer structure.  The best outcome for the publisher is to have multiple points at which consumers can access content.  After this, their core job is to maximise the royalties that go back to authors.  Good analytics are therefore vital: one of the advantages that HarperCollins has gained from working with Scribd is that it obtains a rich data set which can be used to make both informed marketing and publishing decisions.  There is more about Scribd at http://www.scribd.com/