By Brian Howard
“I won’t be talking much about the future, and I won’t use the word ‘publishing’ very often.” A funny way to begin a talk called “A Futuristic View of the Publishing Industry,” but Publishing Technology  COO Randy Petway ’s take on the topic at yesterday’s Publishing Technology Executive Exchange at the wine cellar of Del Frisco’s on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City was apt indeed, focused as he was on the way consumers discover and purchase content.
That bit of semantic gymnastics on Petway’s part had to do with what he described as the difference between trends and realities. Trends are things that people think are going to happen; the “future” of publishing, however, is already happening—a reality—he explained.
Among those realities is a shift to mobile, which is changing rapidly the way content is consumed. He noted that the world population is already at 35 percent Internet penetration, with that number growing by 17 percent each year. The numbers for cell phone penetration are even more astounding: 80 percent penetration—often leapfrogging other technology—with a slow move from “dumb” phones to smart phones. And he pointed out that there are predictions that by 2016 the adoption of tablets will outpace stationary computers.
The second key reality is a shift to social media and its influence on behavior, especially buying behavior. He noted that 75 percent of those polled say they would be more likely to purchase something if it was recommended by a friend, and that 20 percent would purchase something directly from a social media site.
The combination of these two realities, said Petway, is resulting in a drastic change in behavior with regard to conducting commerce. Consumers now demand immediacy and a frictionless experience in making transactions.
Petway pointed out that while Amazon prides itself on being “the best place to buy things you know you need,” publishers should focus on “being the best at connecting customers to things they don’t yet know about.”
The way to do this, he says, is through better curation of metadata, not just about products, but about authors. “Connect the dots for your customers,” said Petway. “Push information to people who care about it,” he continued, noting the work of Small Demons  in “linking the printed item to all the stuff discussed in it.”
He also emphasized a focus on high-value customers: “In an e-commerce world, the heaviest social media users are 3 or 4 times more valuable, and iPad users are 10 times more valuable than other customers.”
“Stay close to high-value customers,” he emphasized. “Find technological ways to monitor what’s going on with your brand.”
Ultimately, said Petway, publishers need to find ways to make it as easy as possible to purchase their products. “If you make it too difficult, customers will go elsewhere,” he said, offering the example of someone who finds inferior—but free and easily accessible—instructional content on YouTube.
*This article originally appeared at BookBusinessMag.com , the online home of Book Business magazine.