Tag Archives: Think

New ‘traditional’ shows that old ‘traditional’ book publishing is in sharp decline

Bowker’s recent release of their 2010 annual report on print book publishing highlights an important, but not that new, shift in the meaning of the term ‘traditional’ book publishing. They report that the number of print titles published by ‘traditional’ book publishers has grown by 5%.

There are many aspiring publishers, or self-publishing authors, who might be encouraged by this news. But, if you are a traditional ‘traditional’ book publisher who publishes in the fields of literature,  humanities, or  social sciences, this is not good news. From the article announcing the report:”Literature (-29%), Poetry (-15%), History (-12), and Biography (-12%) all recorded double digit declines. Fiction, which is still the largest category (nearly 15% of the total) dropped 3% from 2009, continuing a decline from peak output in 2007. Religion (-4%) fell to 5th place behind Science among the largest categories.”

However, if you are a new ‘traditional’ publisher this is very good news. “Major increases were seen in Computers (51% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 8%), Science (37% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 12%) and Technology (35% over 2009, with an average five-year growth rate of 11%).”

Bowker explains these declines in the context of those segments being more vulnerable to fluctuations in discretionary spending. This may be true. However, it is equally plausible that the traditional ‘traditional’ audiences have shifted their demand to utilise electronic formats and devices, online experiences, and other content experiences.

If you are a new or an old player in any of the traditional ‘traditional’ segments, the pressure is really on to better understand just where and what your audiences are doing with the content they love. Bibliobazaar’s stellar expansion during 2010, with 1,461,918 out of copyright titles converted to their print-on-demand model may be one indication. We are yet to see if their model is a commercial success, but the brains behind them (two of the guys who set up Booksurge, sold to Amazon) would suggest they certainly know what they are doing.

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Business opportunities: students and their ‘everyday life research’

In First Monday’s recent issue (Volume 4, 4 April 2011) researchers Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg from the University of Washington report on their research into college students’ everyday life information-seeking behaviour.

A few helpful findings for book industry players:

  • ‘books’ are often considered more authoritative than blogs or random info – one student went in search of methods for curing food, they ‘blew those (blogs) off’ and went to an online cookbook.
  • students are ‘more engaged’ with ‘everyday life research’ than conventional course work.
  • search engines are used most for making purchasing-related decisions and other high-risk decisions (like curing food properly so it doesn’t make you sick).

Most importantly, this research points to  business opportunities for publishers and campus book-sellers in:

  • identifying the everyday life research that students engage in.
  • developing online information services to meet these needs.
  • integrating these information services with course-related products and services they already access.

Ebook Buying Behaviour – a personal view

I just received Kobo’s new release email appropriately named ‘Hot off the Digital Press!’.

Instantly I saw a book I wanted for one of my sons, called ‘Life Without Limits’ and nearly bought it. I haven’t bought it yet because I don’t want to sacrifice my iPad for the length of time it might take him to read it, (I’m too tight to buy him his own iPad, although the iPad2 is appealing, a hand-me-down may soon eventuate…) and that I know he, at 17 years of age, actually likes sitting/lying with a printed version. So, I’ll wait till I see it as a paperback somewhere and pick it up then.

But then I realised, I am in fact buying ebooks to satisfy demands that I didn’t even notice I had, till this opportunity for instant satisfaction was here. E.g.:

  • Some new releases that I have bought instantly: had been meaning to get ‘that’ book, its now available as ebook, great, will grab it ‘now’.
  • Attending a conference recently I was fascinated to hear about Peter Levine’s ‘Shaking the Tiger’, I wanted it ‘now’,  bought it as an ebook (could only get a Kindle version), started reading it on the iPad immediately, loved it.
  • I wish there were more titles available in ebook format. At the same conference there were four other books I wanted ‘now’ but none were available as ebooks, had to wait weeks for them to come from online hardcopy sellers. I would actually still buy them as ebooks because they are are for work and I would like to be able to dip into them while traveling, I don’t want to carry my library with me.
  • I have a purchased a few books in p and e versions, for this reason, I enjoy the different reading experience and convenience they each offer, depending on where I am and what I am doing.
  • Weirdly, reading Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Spiral Staircase’ on my Blackberry offered a different reflective experience to that I had reading the print. The print was my main focus, but when on the train, or in a cafe, with a few spare minutes, I would delve back in to a favorite passage and experience it anew. Now I consider this added reflective experience that the e version might offer and about a third of the time buy both e and p. Why aren’t more bundles available?

In summary the ‘now’-ness of ebooks is fantastic, both its fast delivery and its flexibility to adapt to what we are doing at any point in time. This added reflective experience is something that might have surprising potential in other ways too, for learning in particular. Never before has the book product known such potential to play a greater role in people’s lives.

By the way, I actually don’t like reading ebooks on any device, it kills my eyes, perhaps its time to try one of the epaper versions (Kindle, Kobo, etc) . BUT I love the features above so much that I am prepared to stand the eye-fatigue at least a few times a week.

Online book-selling – a growth opportunity, price is NOT the only driver

Australian book-sellers have got it particularly tough at present – as Borders troubles partly reminds us – publishers are not willing or able to respond fast enough to the intense price competition from overseas, GST continues to put them at a disadvantage, and free freight offered by players like the Book Depository makes Australian postage rates for the average book-seller appear  almost extortionist.

Yes, it would be sweet if the current BISG investigation resulted in some of these issues being effectively dealt with. But book business people are generally good at simply accepting that their future is in their hands, and more than ever before it is time to explore more fully the opportunity for growth that online book-selling represents.

1. Customers especially know best – those book-sellers who do well regardless of the trends are usually independent and are exceptionally good at listening to their customers, and selling them more of what they want. Riverbend and Readings are two of several that come quickly to mind, both have vibrant and relevant online stores to complement their bricks&mortar base.

2. Specialization means advantage – one of the criticisms of Borders recently is that what they offered was not much different to Kmart’s book sections, but were a lot more expensive.   Many people love lounging in a Borders store, with a coffee or not, reading a favorite author. But that was not translating into sales, being a destination is good, but it must be grounded in a form of specialist interest(s) that prompt people to spend. Again, the Indies are good at this.

3. Current advantage gives leverage – many stores have the simple advantage of a good retail location, or a well-known brand. Established stores with these types of strengths may have more leverage online than they realize. Growing an email list, and an online customer base does add competitive advantage and value to the business over time, even if it is not the main source of revenue.

4. Online represents multiple propositions – events, partnerships, book-inspired ventures, multi-media products, can all form the myriad of products and services a bookshop might consider offering their customers, with their specialist interests in mind.

5. It must be slick – Amazon and The Book Depository have set the benchmark for ‘slickness’, you have to be confident you can come close to their standards of ease of online use, if you are serious about exploiting these opportunities online.

Price is a major driver, that is true, but when a bookshop gets these other types of drivers right, their customers are less inclined to seek out a few dollars in savings.

BRW’s Fast 100 shows book businesses the way

Lessons from some of the firms in BRW’s Fast 100 list for 2011:

#1 – Australian Power & Gas, 270% growth to $130m – A team of keen executives have learnt from working with larger companies and decided to roll out a new model with less overheads. Most systems are out-sourced (billing, invoicing, payments), their main costs are labour with a team of only 55 people. This sounds similar to Book Depository’s model.

Lesson: off-load, out-source, do whatever you can to focus only on the essential role of your business to connect readers with the book experiences they want, or, when they want them, or, where they want them, or, in the formats they want them in.

#5 – Sportsnet Holidays, 202% growth to $13m – a travel agency just for sports lovers. This is a terrific example of a business honing in on the specific customer experience they want to support and enhance. It is exactly what the more successful publishers are doing.

Lesson: Define your audience and their interests more narrowly, and deliver them enhanced experiences around those specific interests.

#8 – Farmers Direct, 157% to $104m – it may be a long bow to draw, but providing a more direct route from farmers to consumers has some parallels to the various self-publishing models that have taken hold over the last eight or so years.

Lesson: Self-publishers are still crying out for affordable help. Businesses that deliver them sustainable value will continue to grow.

#59 – Booktopia, 52% to $9m – Australian online book-seller. When our bricks & mortar stores are really struggling, its good to at least see a local online bookshop strongly growing. They don’t seem to be selling ebooks yet, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed them down at all.

Lesson: online, online, online, is the new mantra for book retailing.

BRW content taken from BRW Vol 32, No. 42, October 28-November 24 2010

What can book printers learn from Lightning Source?

The Australian rumour mill has run rife 2 or 3 times over the past five years with the expectation that Lightning Source is ‘about’ to open its doors here. But with September’s announcement, it looks like it is really happening with the opening date set for June 2011.

What potential do they see that we don’t? Australia is such a small market it is hard to see how the board of the multi-billion dollar Ingram empire could be serious about this move.

Does this point to real growth in our own backyard, and perhaps growth of a kind that is very different to what we might have imagined up to now?

Major local book printers, like McPhersons, Griffin, BPA, and Ligare, have all been responding positively to the growing demand from their major publishing clients for shorter print runs. In fact, the competition amongst this group of local book printers has become so fierce during 2010 that, for quantities of even less than 20, prices have fallen by over 50%.  This means the production cost of a 200 page paperback, with B&W internals and a colour laminated cover, is getting down to the $4 or $5 mark. Perhaps they saw Lightning Source coming and knew they had to act in such a dramatic way, but is it enough?

Here are a few reasons why Lightning Source might not think print pricing is the only key to competitive strength:

1. Managing the data is what really matters – Lightning Source is a sister company to Ingram Digital that is offering publishers sophisticated content management solutions. Their two main products, Core Source and Vital Source, together with Lightning Source really do offer exciting opportunities for publishers to deliver their content seamlessly to both print and electronic media and through mixed distribution channels. Our local printers, even the best and strongest of them, will find it very difficult to compete with these integrated solutions, no matter how cheap their book printing becomes.

2. Global marketing requires global distribution – few medium or large sized publishers can afford to only focus on the Australian market. Setting up and maintaining global distribution arrangements that incorporate print-on-demand solutions is not easy. The Ingram/Ingram Digital/Lightning Source model makes great sense for them.

3. Has the horse bolted? – There is the possibility that the falls in local pricing reflects both pure desperation and a big shake-up that is about to come. The merger between McPhersons’s and Griffin that got knocked back by the ACCC previously might now be the only way to salvage these two companies, and perhaps others along with them.

On the positive side, there are still some reasons why local printers might continue to enjoy some competitive advantage over Lightning Source.

1. Relationships matter – local publishers are, on the whole, very loyal to their preferred printer. There have been a few examples of non-traditional printers breaking into the traditional book market, such as SOS in Sydney and their POD service for Random House. But mainstream publishers have tended to remain loyal to the established book printers and have worked with them to develop more responsive print solutions that deliver mutual value.

2.  Printed books are not going out of fashion – we know that, traditionally, about half the books printed in Australia are not for  mainstream book retailing (refer the PIAA and APA ‘Book Production in Australia – a Joint Industry Study’ 2001). We also know that the number of titles being registered with an ISBN is steadily increasing, due largely to print-on-demand (see evidence in the UK). It is reasonable to predict that the opportunity for digital book printing will grow (but it doesn’t  help volume off-set book printers).

3. Close proximity has value – The fact that Lightning Source can write a business case to invest in a plant here suggests that locating on-shore has real value. With smaller publishers likely to continue to prefer locally owned printers, not all the business is going to disappear.

4. Copyright is not straightforward – There are many tricky aspects to territorial copyright that even they may not have worked out yet – being able to print and ship in the US does not necessarily mean you can print the same book in Australia, it all depends who has the rights. Many Penguin, Harper Collins, Hachette and other major publisher titles are sold under a different publisher agreement in Australia. It is possible that Lightning Source still have hurdles to jump before achieving the print volumes that their current management information systems predict.

It is difficult to see any local book printer surviving for more than five years, in their current form, unless they really ramp up their digital offerings. Publishers will increasingly need to offer the full range of hardback, paperback, ebook, re-purposed, diced and spliced, electronic book products, through a complex international distribution network. To do this the publisher needs a print solution that is neatly integrated. If it is not all in the one business, it ought to be facilitated via the same file preparation tool, the same job submission interface, and the same order management environment.

It is particularly difficult for local printers to rise to this challenge when the publishers do not have a homogeneous set of technical needs. However, that’s business, and that’s why all book businesses need to be learning as much as they can from the moves of the more agile giants like Lightning Source and their parent, Ingram.

We love the book

This blog is for business people and professionals who simply love the book and who are committed to further building their business or career around it. The monograph is an impressive body of content that has had hours and hours of creative energy devoted to it. Through our experience of books we journey through many aspects of life where people from any walk of life might meet.

First and foremost though, the book is a story. Each book that we read reflects one or more aspects of our personal story. This is big, a personal story made up of many themes and chapters that have influenced our lives, our thoughts, our dreams, our inspirations. It may have supported us through arduous classroom learning and most probably helped us through some tougher lessons in life, these are often common lessons experienced in life. And in this way, the book becomes not just your story, or my story, it becomes our story.

What makes the book unique in this digital day and age is the long-form nature of its content, not short snippets to be skimmed or browsed. It’s a sturdy collection of words and pictures demanding some dedication, perhaps not quite as much as went into its formation, but sometimes it just might. A book invites us into a place of reflection that makes us vulnerable to a new message like few other intimate experiences can. Even when celebrating the delights of food, wine, and other indulgences, the printed work has its own tactile value to offer.

For those of us who remain drawn to a working life connected with pages bound, we know that a strong community exists within the industry. A band of book-lovers that sticks with the enterprises and the professions that sometimes appear to be losing their relevance in the online world.

Our businesses and our jobs will change dramatically over the next ten years. But, whatever format it is read in, and via whatever avenue it is purchased, borrowed, or gifted, the book will remain one of the most important forms of story-telling that our society shares. As online browsing and communicating rapidly reaches across social groupings, generations, and countries, so will our yearning for meaning be increasingly met by the depth and breadth of stories and experiences that books contain.

This blog will explore the many new opportunities that are emerging and being tried by book businesses. We will evaluate and report on these opportunities with evidence-based articles that demonstrate how, with almost every new web page or e-reading device being created, there is also a new chapter opening in the life of every publisher, printer, book-seller, librarian, and of every other business and profession in between.