Here’s a link to an article you’ve absolutely got to read: It’s by Mike Shatzkin and it’s called Publishing and Digital Change: What’s Next? It highlights many of the key questions currently facing publishers, authors, bookstores, etc. Although it’s a rather long article, I recommend you read it from start to finish. Here are some of the highlights:
It has been said that the failure of many (e-content) initiatives the first time around was that they were centered on what was good for publishers (selling books without manufacturing them, for example), not for the audience.
Because I’ve been so personally “sold” on ebooks while watching them march backwards for this entire decade, I have asked people repeatedly “why doesn’t this catch on?” I haven’t been happy with the answers. Most people offer two: “not a good enough reader yet” or “the ebook, to succeed, has to offer interactivity or something that the printed book doesn’t.”
And nobody should get carried away to think that this (a dedicated ebook device) is really like the iPod and music, which lets you carry around all the audio CDs you could listen to all the time in a device that fits in your pocket. There is no parallel paradigm for books. Even carrying every book you own wouldn’t be as much of an advantage. You’d need to be carrying all the ones you want next, which is an entirely different proposition.
Brick and mortar stores are always going to be more effective at generating many book sales than any online mechanism can be. Anything that sifts sales away from brick and mortar, in the long run, will generally reduce sales.
The good news about the long tail for publishers is that they get sales out of their deep backlist. The bad news is that all those long tail books are competing with today’s books for consumers, so today’s books get harder and harder to establish in the marketplace. And the further bad news is that the long tail weakens brick and mortar retailing relative to the net.
Barnes & Noble is a prime example of a company that is prospering through increased efficiency much more than through increased sales. Although they have managed to drive “same store” sales increases, their profit picture is mostly improved by managing to sell more books with less stock.
A new program called Amazon Connects, which invites authors to set up their permanent web residence at the online retailer, should not only alarm Barnes & Noble and Indigo, it could loosen the bonds between publishers and their authors as well. Publishers’ marketers need to figure out how to build marketing that creates a “switching cost” for an author to leave the house. The big authors will be too smart and savvy to permit that to happen but the small ones won’t.