Cover Story: Hitting a Moving Target
Publishers are faced with strategy decisions like never before. As publishing options continue to grow and business models shift seemingly every few months with the introduction of new digital devices or growth of some external pressure, publishers must plan for the future while reacting to the present—a tough situation even without the need to deal with the effects of a down economy.
Given the current downturn, there is little room for making mistakes when it comes to investing precious funds in new ventures. Yet the right sort of investment is essential if publishers are to position themselves for a post-recession book market.
"The first rule of holes is to stop digging," says Mike Shatzkin, chief executive of Idea Logical Co., a strategic adviser to publishers and their trading partners. "The first concern is not the backlist. The first concern is to have creation properties in place today that mean that you won't be worried about 2010 books in 2013. So the first thing to do is to go to a digital workflow."
Once a digital workflow is in place, publishers must begin taking advantage of the opportunities it presents, Shatzkin says. While editors have always known to work with an eye to the end product, this now means encouraging authors to provide URLs for resource material related to their book topics, photos, videos and other multimedia. Publishers must put resources into place that anticipate emerging products such as enhanced e-books.
With so much focus on e-reader devices, there may be a temptation to move into device making, as Hearst recently has done with its Skiff e-reader. Shatzkin believes this is a bad idea.
"I don't think the publisher can create the technological or distribution infrastructure," Shatzkin says. "They never tried to own all the bookstores. I'm skeptical about whether content and audience machines, which is what publishers are, should become technology machines. They really don't know the business. … I would say just about the last thing they should do is create their own proprietary platforms or devices."