Report: How is Technology Revolutionising Distribution in Publishing?

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Words by Chris Russell,photos by Katrina Hopewell.

If there’s one driving force behind the ever-evolving landscape of book publishing, it’s technology. Like many aspects of the business, distribution has been revolutionised by recent tech innovations, and at April’s Byte The Book, sponsored by ipage and Ingram, a panel of speakers from across the industry gathered to discuss the impact this is having on authors, publishers and booksellers.

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Our sponsors, pictured from left to right: Ruth Jones, Andrew Bromley (also a panelist), Darragh Deering and Saskia Watts

Byte The Book founder Justine Solomons chaired the event, opening the floor with a telling observation: “Authors are really driving the industry now.” Few appreciate this better than Orna Ross, a self-published writer who formed the Alliance Of Independent Authors five years ago and has since seen many thousands of members sign up worldwide. ALLi has three different membership tiers: authors about to self-publish, authors who have already self-published and established authors who have sold more than 50,000 books over a two-year period. Interestingly, revealed Orna, it is the last of these categories that is growing the fastest, and this is an indication of just how lucrative self-publishing can be for those who are prepared to put the work in. The indie approach may not be for every author, Orna conceded, but the level of control it affords a writer over their own career makes it an attractive prospect for those who find the traditional publishing route restrictive.

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Our panel, from left to right: Tereze Brikmane, Andrew Bromley and Orna Ross

One technological advance that has proved a major game-changer for self-publishers is print-on-demand. Andrew Bromley, Marketing Manager at Ingram, spoke about the process on behalf of Ingram Spark, arguably the biggest print service provider for indie authors besides Amazon’s CreateSpace. POD, said Andrew, has grown massively in popularity in recent years, partly due to the fact that it cuts out the wholesaler and allows authors to send their books directly to the stores, making for very favourable margins. What’s more, as the technology continually improves, Ingram Spark are finding new ways to reduce costs without ever compromising on quality. “Papers are being developed specifically for POD printers now,” explained Andrew, “so they’re reacting better to the printing process.” In other words, as the years go by, the gap between traditional printing and print-on-demand is only going to shrink.

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A rapt audience engaging in the #bytethebook debate

The panel was completed by bookseller Tereze Brikmane, manager of the innovative children’s bookshop Tales On Moon Lane. Tales was recently shortlisted for The Bookseller’s Independent Bookshop Of The Year award, and it’s easy to see why. Beyond functioning as a thriving physical store, Tales supply school libraries, run business enterprise days for young people, source authors for school events (on and around World Book Day, they typically entertain ten thousand children over a three-week period) and programme literary festivals. As for independent authors, rather uniquely, the shop runs its own online platform for self-publishers called Can’t Put It Down, designed to provide writers with a social support network and readers with a more diverse range of books. They even take open submissions from indie authors over e-mail.

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There’s always time for networking at Byte The Book

As the discussion drew to a close, Byte Consultancy’s Marzia Ghiselli asked the panel to reveal which technology or tool had revolutionised their business the most. Hand-held scanners, responded Tereze, hinting at the difficulties smaller stores traditionally have with tracking stock. Print-on-demand, said Andrew, perhaps unsurprisingly. And finally, Orna chose eBooks – the very technology that kicked off the self-publishing revolution in the first place.

In short, one thing was clear: while publishers have historically been criticised for living in the Stone Age, for many corners of the industry, technology is no longer a dirty word.

If you enjoyed this report and want to keep up with the latest happenings in publishing as well as network with publishers and authors alike keep yourself posted by visiting our events page here. You can join us from £30 a quarter here

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