Industry Outlook Bright
Despite the predictions of gray skies that have become increasingly prevalent in forecasts for the book publishing industry, a recent survey conducted by Book Business shows that the large majority of industry executives still cast an optimistic eye toward the future. In addition, most respondents foresee a lucrative long-term future for their companies and appear unconcerned that digital-format books will eventually replace print.
Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed replied they feel “optimistic” about the industry’s future and another 10 percent are “very optimistic.” Just 16 percent consider themselves to be “pessimistic.”
Furthermore, these executives appear to, for the most part, have high hopes for their own companies over the next year, with more than half anticipating growth. Forty-five percent anticipate a “moderate increase” in growth and another 13 percent predict a “substantial increase.” Five percent see “moderate” or “substantial” declines in their companies’ growth.
Along those lines, more companies plan to add staff over the next year than cut staff. Four percent of respondents believe their companies will “lay off staff” in the next year, while 22 percent predict staff additions, and 42 percent anticipate “no change.”
Despite all the controversy over the past year with Google and questions over other mega-search sites’ impact on the industry, most publishing executives actually view Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other search tools as a good thing for the industry as a whole. Fifty-eight percent said they view them as positive, and 27 percent were unsure. Just 9 percent of respondents believe that these searches will have a negative impact.
When queried about whether digital-format books will eventually replace print books, 1 percent responded “completely” and 11 percent said “mostly.” Forty-nine percent of those surveyed replied “somewhat,” 28 percent said “not much” and another 11 percent said “not at all.”
Of course, those polled did identify a number of concerns facing their companies and the industry as a whole. Specifically, four issues were cited more often than any others: “generating new revenue”; “book manufacturing costs”; “marketing and promotion of my titles”; and “developing a multimedia strategy.” “[I’m concerned about] printing costs, because we do four-color travel guides for kids,” says Matthew Rosenberger, president of ABC Travel Guides for Kids, a small, Philadelphia-based publisher. “Our printing costs are high … but my cost margin is pretty tight, because I’m selling at a 40- to 50-percent discount, and my per-unit cost is such that it’s expensive,” he explains. “Until now I’ve done all of my printing in the United States, but I’m now looking to China, and I recently made a connection with a couple of printers there because the costs are considerably less, although even that’s changing now, too, with rising oil costs.”
Jim Kacian, who owns another small publishing company, Red Moon Press, says that rising expenses are hurting him in other areas, too. “Production costs [are] rising to the point where short-run books cannot be marketed for at least minimal profit.”
Jody Grant-Gray, owner of X-Flipz, which publishes thumb-powered “flip books,” agrees that high manufacturing costs have a trickle-down effect on her business. “Because of the high cost of printing, we have to print overseas now, and shipping charges have greatly increased with the rise in fuel costs. The turnaround time delays to get our books on the market, including reprints and new books, is the biggest threat to our future.”
Other publishers singled out the challenge of marketing and promoting their titles. “I think probably the most pressing challenge for us is in the promotion area,” says David Drotar, publisher, Brookview Press. “ … setting ourselves apart from the self-publishers, because there are so many books out there being published by print-on-demand ... that the public doesn’t really understand the difference between self-publishing and independent presses. So that’s an important challenge: getting the media to recognize that difference.”
Still other publishers cite a crowded marketplace and the challenge of identifying efficient delivery methods as their greatest difficulties. “The bottom line is there’s just a ton of information out there ... the challenge for everyone is trying to dig through the information that you need,” says Lance Wobus, senior editor for Taylor & Francis, an international academic publisher. “Google and Amazon transformed the industry and made it a lot better. Our challenge is to make [our content] as transparent or discoverable to our end-users as possible.”
In sum, the survey showed that publishing executives believe good things are in store for their industry. “I’m positive about the [publishing industry’s] outlook,” says Wobus. “I wouldn’t be in the business if I wasn’t. … There will always be a need for people to provide information.” BB
Matt Steinmetz is the publisher and brand director of Publishing Executive.