One sentiment that I hear quite often these days from book industry folks is that "it's an exciting time to be in publishing." And I have to agree. It's an especially exciting time for me to be taking over as editor-in-chief of Book Business magazine, particularly with technology progressing so quickly that it seems to change the book publishing landscape on a weekly basis.
Nothing reinforces this sentiment more for me than attending industry events—and we've had a slew of them in the past few months. This spring, I attended several. I'm always captivated—and energized—by the exchange of ideas that can result when you gather together so many of the great, creative minds that make up our industry.
Don't get me wrong: It's not all "glass-half-full" optimism out there, and sometimes "an exciting time in publishing" is a polite euphemism for "it's keeping me up at night." There are a lot of well-known, serious challenges and issues that publishers are struggling to sort out while still striving to produce quality books and generate revenue.
One of the most prevalent topics in book publishing right now, of course, is e-books, and all the many issues that feed into that format (pricing, distribution, digital rights management, etc.). I have long been a proponent of e-books, but admittedly, I tend to take more of a consumer view than a business view. I have an e-reader that I love; therefore, I want as many books to be available as e-books as possible.
That's why Square One founder and Publisher Rudy Shur's Guest Column in the May/June issue of Book Business—my first as editor-in-chief—gave me plenty of food for thought. Shur, as head of an independent publishing house, takes the often-not-as-popular stance that jumping head-first into the e-book fray at this time is not the smartest strategy for his business. "… Right now, we need to keep our eye on producing titles for the 97 percent [of our business] that comprises the traditional markets," Shur wrote to his fellow indies. "When the time is right to make the move to e-books, we'll know it." If you haven't already read Shur's column in the magazine, I encourage you to read it at BookBusinessMag.com, as he lends a thought-provoking point-of-view to the "should we or shouldn't we" e-book debate.
On the other side of that e-book debate is another independent publisher and the focus of this month's Corner Office interview: Todd Bottorff, president and publisher of Turner Publishing (page 15). "The strategic shifts that are happening in the industry related to e-books are one of the most exciting components of the business," he says in the interview. "E-books are an integral part of our program going forward."
At one of the industry events I attended this spring, the Independent Book Publishers Association's "Publishing University," Shur and Bottorff, along with a panel of other heads of independent publishers, participated in a CEO roundtable in which Shur's Book Business Guest Column was brought up for discussion. A lively debate ensued, as you can imagine when you bring together strong opinions on both sides of an issue. "Don't fear the digi-mageddon," offered fellow panelist David Borgenicht, president and publisher of Quirk Books. "Think of e-books as an opportunity."
I like Borgenicht's "glass-half-full" approach, an optimism that I do not believe is misguided. I also don't believe it negates Shur's point. E-books, as with other digital technologies, are opportunities for book publishers, and they should be approached as such—not with fear of the demise of our beloved print book, or with our heads planted firmly in the sand in hopes that they will simply pass over us. Maybe it's not the right time for your company to pursue e-books or other digital offerings, but these offerings at least need to be considered within your business' direct realm of possibility. Because if you're not considering them, I guarantee you that your competitors are, and are figuring out the best way to utilize and profit from them. Don't underestimate this industry of great minds; I've seen you in action.