Publishers link up with techies to ‘renew the book’

Little beautiful girl read e-books

E-readers, tablets, blogs and even online video have shaken up book publishing over the past decade. Esther O’Toole has been finding out about a Dutch competition that seeks to drive innovation in the industry and is backed by publishers themselves.

It seems almost unthinkable that it was less than 10 years ago that the first effective e-readers came on the market, followed swiftly by the first iPhone and other smart phones with e-reader capacities. Now, reading on your phone, tablet or laptop comes as naturally to many people as picking up a book.

However, the question of whether digital books and magazines mean the end is nigh for traditional print media has still to resolve itself. As smart phones have become bigger and better, e-reader sales have begun to slow. The number of e-book sales in comparison to hard copy sales is still steadily increasing though, with 7% of the Dutch consumer market being in e-books at the end of 2014.

Traditional publishers are aware of the need for innovation in their industry and have now teamed up with the start-up gurus of Rockstart to stimulate further change.

‘Everywhere in the world publishers, whether in news, music or books, struggle with the internet,’ says Wiet de Bruijn, chairman of the Dutch publishers’ association GAU. ‘With the Renew the Book project we say we want to stimulate change and we are not afraid to admit that the best ideas might come from outside the publishing industry.’


Digitised reading has affected the business models of publishers, book marketeers, libraries and book shops. The global book market is worth in the region of €89m  annually, so there is plenty at stake and a big incentive for rejuvenation.

‘The first big wave of disruption has hit its peak, so this is a good time for Renew the Book and to start looking for new, long term, sustainable methodologies in publishing,’ says Rockstart’s Christoph Auer-Welsbach, who is running the competition. ‘It’s clear from changes in the music industry that a lot can go wrong if you’re not prepared to innovate.’

‘Publishers need to re-examine their value proposition and think where they can improve upon it for the industry, authors and readers. The experience of reading a book needs to shift. I want different reading experiences for different times in my day, in my life,’ says Auer-Welsbach .

Rockstart is putting its very best publishing gurus and years of experience in the hands of the Renew the Book winners. In turn, the publishers are providing a €15k non-refundable grant to allow the winning team to build a solid and sustainable foundation for their new business.

So, what are they looking for?

Renew the Book aims to be low risk for entrants and thereby as accessible as possible. The aim is to find ‘revolutionary ideas’ so the scope is wide open.

Ideas might range from new forms of marketing that help book stores reinvent themselves and encourage in-store purchases, alternative ways to manage the publication process from start to finish or how gaming could be used to encourage children to keep reading.

‘While the ways we publish and consume books are changing due to technology, the stories themselves help us understand the world we live in,’ says Auer-Welsbach. ‘We strongly believe books have been and will stay important for us as human beings.

For more information, visit the Renew the Book website. Deadline for applications October 12.

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