I spent the better part of this past week attending a series of meetings in Redmond, WA. The sessions were great and the weather was beautiful, but what really caught my eye was the average age of the attendees and speakers. Keep in mind this was a mix of authors and members of various publishing houses, primarily editorial and marketing types. Other than the occasional Microsoft employee, I don’t think anyone in the room was less than 30 years old. In fact, I’d estimate the average age at about 35, maybe closer to 40.
What’s wrong with that? For starters, I think it’s both an accurate snapshot of the aging population of authors and publishers, and I would bet that it also mirrors the ever-increasing average age of our customer base. OK, it’s only one conference and maybe it’s not a good representation of the overall business. Or is it?
As I think back about the last several tech conferences I’ve attended over the past few years (e.g., TechEd, LinuxWorld, etc.), the theme is very similar. Although there are plenty of 20-somethings at these shows, they don’t seem to be the ones stopping by the publisher booths. That average age of 35 noted above is pretty consistent with the average age of publisher booth browsers. I tend to visit and hang around all the publisher booths at these events, by the way, so my observations aren’t limited to just one or two.
I’m not trying to be dramatic, but if this trend doesn’t change we’ll simply continue to chase after an older and older (and shrinking) customer base. I see this with my own kids (ages 18, 16 and 11). When it comes to issues on the computer, they don’t look for a book, they turn to Google for the answer.
At its core, this business isn’t so much about making books as it is about providing information. We’ve got to do a better job of providing that information in a manner that’s relevant to the next generation of customers. What’s your opinion?