Big Idea: Growing the Book Industry's Pie
Book Business asked industry thought leaders to discuss the big ideas that are changing the book industry. We are excited about the future of publishing, and we hope these essays invigorate you with new and illuminating perspectives on that future. View the complete essay collection here.
There's a school of thought that contends the publishing market is a "fixed pie," in which total revenues are flat and unlikely to change. While the marketplace has reached a limit when it comes to traditional book buying, publishers can still grow the pie by capitalizing on the opportunities digital media and platforms present to package, distribute, and sell content in new ways. These opportunities include:
- Offering access, not just products
- Promoting components; and
- Providing content as part of workflow
The Traditional Plateau
According to the Bookstats database, unit sales of books published in the United States grew about 4.8% between 2008 and 2013-a compounded growth rate of a bit less than 1% a year. Over that same period, prices dropped 2.5%, eroding any notion of growth in the market. While unit sales of digital formats, mostly ebooks, are up almost 1,200% since 2008, they largely replaced sales of physical formats, which declined almost half a billion units in the same time frame.
With prices falling and unit sales increasing only slightly faster than the overall population, book publishers might understandably think of the market as something close to a zero-sum game. That perspective could change if we look at publishing through some different lenses.
Platforms like Safari Books Online (O'Reilly Media) and VitalSource Bookshelf (Ingram Content Group) offer users access to book content targeted at specific audiences. By working with a range of publishers, these platforms combine digital access with content breadth and depth.
Safari has grown the market for its content by selling site licenses to companies and government entities that historically have been hard for trade publishers to reach. Safari offers these institutional customers cost-effective ways to make sure that their employees are well-trained and have immediate access to the information they need.
Related story: Big Idea: These Books Are Made for Reading (Not Just Selling)
Brian O'Leary is the founder and principal of Magellan Media Partners, a publishing consultant that helps enterprises with media and publishing components.