After reading this excellent post by Kassia Krozser on Booksquare I kept thinking about this question: Who are my competitors? My day gig involves publishing books for IT professionals, so the logical competitors include Pearson, Microsoft Press and O'Reilly, for example. But who do I really compete with?
I have no stats to prove this but I've said before that I've lost more sales to Google than I have to all my traditional book publishing competitors combined. These days it's so easy to get the answer to a question via Google that many, many people (myself included) find what they need in the search results and frequently skip the book option. Fair enough. As I've also said before, Google, or any search engine, provides free solutions that are "good enough" and force us book publishers to justify the value proposition of our (non-free) products.
So who are my competitors? Besides those book publishers noted above, I have to consider these as well:
- Google and every other search engine that serves up pointers to answers
- Message boards and other forums that provide experts and community assistance
- How-to sites that are starting to offer more and more video
The other interesting note Kassia made in her post had to do with how "publishers don't sell books to readers." She went on to say that "publishers sell books to distributors who sell books to bookstores who sell books to readers." Many of us also sell directly to the stores, not just distributors, but her point is still valid. Most publishers haven't established direct lines to customers for one of two reasons, sometimes both: Either they don't want to risk channel conflict with their retailer/distributor partners or they just don't have the resources to invest in direct-to-customer relationships.
This dynamic started to evolve several years ago and continues to evolve today. I tend to think the publishers who will come out on top in the future will be the ones who figure out how to establish more ties to their customers, without upsetting the apple cart of retailers/distributors, of course. It can be done and tools like social networks, blogs, online video and other e-content offerings will help pave the way.