Editor's Note: Rising From the Ashes of Retail Giants
It would appear that the mighty are falling. I recently read a Wall Street Journal article, published Aug. 18, about this recent decline of Barnes & Noble ("Clearance Sale: Barnes & Noble Didn't Evolve Enough"). In the article, the writer, James B. Stewart, reminisces about his own neighborhood bookstore and ponders the question of whether a B&N decline could pave the way for the return of the independent bookstore.
"… I still yearn for someone intelligent who can recommend a good book," Stewart writes. "I enjoy the community of other people who love books. I like talking to someone both before buying a book and after reading it. I think independent bookstores may be able to provide these services even while selling over the Internet. … Maybe I'm naive, but I'd like to think there are new opportunities for booksellers."
Independent bookstores rising from the ashes of retail giants? It's an intriguing idea, and one that may be less about naivety, as Stewart suggests, and more about reinvention.
That sort of forward thinking reminded me of Ken Brooks, senior vice president, global production and manufacturing services, Cengage Learning, who I interviewed as this year's book publishing inductee into the Publishing Executive Hall of Fame. Brooks impressed me, as I'm sure he'll impress you when you read his profile on page 20, with his positive outlook on digital transformation and the opportunities that it presents for the future of the book publishing industry.
Brooks describes one of his biggest challenges as transitioning employees who have spent their entire careers in print into this new digital world. He makes the point that many of the skills needed to produce print books are the same skills needed to produce digital books, and that the key to overcoming this challenge is to reconceive the way we view our role in the industry. "… Many [production] folks view themselves and get a lot of their self-worth from 'I make beautiful books.' If you can … make that individual transition from 'I make beautiful books' to … 'I provide tools that help people learn,' it's a lot easier," Brooks says.