The book business is “like the wild west. Everyone wants to be everything", Hyperion publisher Ellen Archer said to 1500-plus attending Digital Book World in New York on Tuesday. Where is separation between author, publisher, agent, retailer these days?
Proof was everywhere in the air: Apple’s latest authoring and textbook moves announced a few days ago, not to mention Amazon choosing to confirm in a press release its much bruited-about “new" print publishing/distribution arrangement with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the very afternoon of DBW’s first full day. HMH’s newly-named New Harvest imprint will publish “p" versions of the adult titles Larry Kirshbaum will generate for Amazon in New York.
Anti-Amazon animus was palpable among many attendees. It has gotten so bad that publishers, ever fearful about the long shadow and big ears stretching from Seattle, nevertheless grumbled loud enough for National Public Radio to air an unusually pointed piece on one of its major news programs on the eve of DBW, headlined “Publishers and Booksellers See a ‘Predatory’ Amazon".
Early DBW take-homes came from resident soothsayer Mike Shatzkin in his prognostications, and Forrester Research’s James McQuivey in his statistics.
On pricing, Shatzkin said, “constant monitoring is called for and publishers need to be at least as adventurous in pricing as authors are on their own". One of the biggest challenges, everybody knows, will be to keep display and sales alive in bricks and mortar, yet ironically, publishers are “shrinking their sales forces just when they need to be on the ground finding new accounts" – in the widest bricks and mortar sense – “to replace the ones that are disappearing".
Shatzkin was one of many first-day speakers to assert that it’s becoming harder and harder for publishers to avoid direct sales: customers are “the coin of the realm." On another front, “every book" needs to have effort expended on metadata enhancement, and quality control still needs to be better on many e-books, even “plain-vanilla" ones.
A moment that grabbed everybody’s attention was when Shatzkin asked if audio will become part of an enhanced ebook or a regular ebook instead of a separate product altogether. He advised publishers to get themselves into the events business, and - referring to Random UK’s recent move to break short stories out of anthologies for individual sale - asked why that isn’t being done universally. He summed up the current situation this way: “there were definitely easier times to be in publishing, but never more exciting or stimulating times".
Forrester’s McQuivey definitely spoke to the times not being so easy. His latest survey of 74 executives tapped from the biggest, many mid-tier and some smaller publishers revealed that “optimism is waning."
Last year 89% of executives were optimistic about the digital transformation; in the new survey that figure decreased to 82%. In the previous survey 74% felt readers would be better off; the current figure is 61%. Last year 66% felt more people will be reading books; the equivalent this year is 47%. And whereas last year 51% felt their companies would be stronger, only 28% do now.
Currently 25 million people in the US own an e-reader; 34 million have a tablet; and at least eight million homes have two tablets. Within publishing companies, organizing for the digital transformation is “coming along nicely" - 75% have an executive level person responsible for digital; 63% report digital skills are integrated into departments rather than centralized; 69% expect to increase digital staffing this year. Yet McQuivey pointed out that publishers’ “love affair with apps is over:" 51% surveyed said that the cost is too high and just 15% believe that apps represent a significant revenue opportunity.
Although 54% of publishers predict that print sales will decrease in 2012, only 5% believe that decrease will be “significant". E-book sales are predicted to increase 130% overall this year and Amazon is expected to take about 41% of them. To succeed in the future, “publishers must have direct consumer relationships" McQuivey said, echoing Shatzkin’s earlier assertion.
If it all looks too hard and “waning optimism" is getting you down, cheer up: it’s “not despair, but pragmatic realism," McQuivey said with a smile on his face.
More from DBW is coming in the next few days.
Recent blog posts
- The secret e-book market: 8 months of digital rankings
- China e-book market hungry for growth
- Paperback pioneers
- Achieving all the sales in the world | @Tom_Chalmers
- Old possum's piece of publishing wisdom
- Publishing's hits and misses
- Self-publishing changed my life, but my publisher grew my sales
- Why Huge Publishing Advances can be Huge Steps Backwards
- Adaptive, Attractive, Interactive: A New Chapter for Digital Textbooks
- What books want
- Dead books walking
2 weeks 23 hours ago
- Why Segregate?
4 weeks 5 days ago
- Big idea: build a new ecosystem - An alternative idea
6 weeks 4 days ago
- finding editors
8 weeks 15 hours ago
- Predatory Publishers
13 weeks 17 hours ago
- Hybird Authors
16 weeks 16 hours ago
17 weeks 18 hours ago
- Still not a plateau
17 weeks 18 hours ago
- Fascinating article
18 weeks 5 days ago
- What if not everything stays the same?
19 weeks 11 hours ago
Tweets from @thefuturebook
TheFutureBook "What works in Basildon is not likely to work in Bangkok" @Tom_Chalmers on growing sales in new territories t.co/voLlra1Cpe
TheFutureBook RT @Porter_Anderson: .@PeterJamesUK, our #PorterMeets guest at 4pGMT for @TheBookseller, saw "Dead Letter Drop" republished in January htt…
TheFutureBook RT @LashesC: Cryptic email sent to publishers from Blackwell's...teaser campaign? t.co/6f2Gcxsv5d