Digital publishing news and views from the Firsty Group


Published by FirstyNews

2021: Digital and Direct

Editor’s note:

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2021!

Early last year we mentioned that 2020 wouldn’t be without ‘changes and challenges’ – of course no one could have predicted just how accurate this might be. It was a tumultuous year to say the least, but the world of publishing has adapted with impressive speed and ingenuity. We have every reason to believe that this year will present just as much opportunity for innovation – this time across a much more optimistic landscape!

Darin Brockman
Firsty Group Founder & CEO

We have spoken a lot previously about the ways in which publishing has changed over the years. In particular, these changes have been largely driven by the ways in which readers discover and consume books – going into 2021, we are seeing these changes becoming even more pronounced, and even more nuanced.

This is coming from a burgeoning consumer consciousness, as well as an increasing emphasis on new technologies, as readers are becoming increasingly aware of the processes behind the books that they read, and the implications of these for the industry at large. In a world where the word ‘sustainability’ no longer just applies to recycling, individuals are circumnavigating larger corporations and, with more choice than ever, are investing in alternatives that better serve publishers and authors – as we have seen, from the investment in indie bookshops.

What first began as a drift towards selling direct has become a seismic shift, partly due to growing concerns over existing business models, but also due to necessity – selling direct became pivotal in the year just gone. Enormous obstacles in the forms of lockdowns and closures, meant that the need for access to reading materials and the switch from bricks and mortar stores to online translated into massive digital growth. Sales of eBooks increased by 30% and audiobook sales increased by 28%, according to Bookstat. The success of audiobooks became a key talking point, discussed avidly across online conferences and especially during the Frankfurt book fair.

Readers, previously beginning to engage more directly with publishers and authors, have been drawn more so than ever to seek content directly. This is due in part to a massive increase in screen time overall – online discovery has surely skyrocketed – but again due to the growing consumer consciousness mentioned earlier.

Take, for example, Black & White’s Olive, Mabel & Me, by Andrew Cotter. Fans of his were drawn to his videos on Twitter and YouTube, where commentaries on the eponymous Olive and Mabel went viral. These videos led to the published book, available in multiple formats through the Black & White website, and publicised through Cotter’s social media. It was not just a book release, but a whole media package, providing entertainment from start to finish – during a time when entertainment has been sorely needed, but also an emerging time when this kind of package is expected by consumers. This spreading of content across multiple platforms, in a range of different formats, and with direct access to content, means that we are seeing titles increasingly as fully formed products with a brand identity of their own. This rise in brand identity, akin to the rise of the influencer, is instrumental in creating opportunities for online discovery and increasing sales.

The challenge is how publishers will establish this same sense of identity, and the unique kind of engagement that comes with it. Long have people been saying that they know their favourite books, their favourite authors – do they know who their favourite publishers are? Most importantly, how will this changing dynamic impact how publishers work with authors to publicise their titles? In an increasingly online marketplace, how can titles stand out? These are questions which we suspect we will see being answered throughout 2021 as an emphasis on direct selling, coupled with the growth in digital creates exciting opportunities for more change yet to come.


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