ref•er•ence pub•lish•ing n :industry segment faced with dramatic change
“But there is a growing frustration with search engines because they are not being used correctly,” says Kobasa. “If you have a broad question or are doing research that requires amassing a great deal of data, a search engine can be an appropriate tool. But if you are looking for a comprehensible, authoritative, discrete answer to a question, an encyclopedia or a dictionary is the right tool to use.”
Segment Shows Significant Decline
In truth, search engines and other online resources have hurt the reference book industry. “The reference category has been extremely challenging over the last few years, as consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet
for their research needs,” says
Michael Norris, senior analyst for Simba Information, a market intelligence and forecasting company owned by R.R. Bowker.
In 2005, the number of reference book titles published dropped 35.5 percent from 2004, according to R.R. Bowker’s “Books in Print Database.” The database includes all trade books, including e-books, which are a very small portion of the overall titles, says Norris. “Of the 19 categories we cover, reference books took the second-steepest drop next to one other very narrow category—politics and current events,” says Norris. “If I had to say which category was most adversely affected by the Internet, it would be reference book publishing.”
Those who are continuing to prosper, he says, are “only those who have a strong reference publishing brand.”
The Future of Facts
So, as the image of the old encyclopedia salesman fades and an iPod jam-packed with wondrous facts comes into focus, one may wonder what successful reference publishing looks like in the future.
Panelas believes it will encompass those who publish high-quality content, who understand what customers want and who have the flexibility to change as needed.
Kobasa adds, “To be a successful reference publisher one has to deliver both what the user is looking to find and what the user does not know to look for. … For example, we need to make sure our information on a topic such as global warming is accurate, comprehensive and balanced for our users. But at the same time, we have to realize that while we have users looking for something they’re describing as global warming, they need to know about related topics like climate or atmospheric gases, too,” he says. “So we need to make sure we have equally extensive and reliable information in those areas and that we make it easier for the user to find this information and understand why it’s pertinent to the question he or she started out with.”