Cover Story: Hitting a Moving Target
On the other hand, publishers must deal with a situation where they are less and less able to set the terms and conditions of distribution. With each successive new digital device, from the Sony Reader to the Amazon Kindle to the new Apple iPad, publishers have been forced into a reactive mode, scrambling to adapt to new capabilities and markets made possible by emerging technologies, while ceding key aspects of the business—such as pricing—to device makers or retailers.
"[Publishers] need to take a step back and look at what they are really doing in the area of e-books," says Todd Eckler, executive vice president, print and publishing, at publishing solutions provider North Plains Systems. "What they're doing is becoming victims to the device manufacturers, to their whims, because they are not controlling their content."
Whatever one may think of electronic media, and without denying that print sales still make up the bulk of book sales, Eckler says it needs to be universally accepted that e-books have carved out a permanent niche that requires an overall strategy re-evaluation. The core of that strategy, he says, is "flexibility with a capital 'F.'"
Being flexible means putting oneself in a position to quickly adapt and take advantage of changes and emerging capabilities—such as the new frontiers in color, interactivity, video and Web integration represented by Apple's iPad.
"They did it right," Eckler says of Apple's new device, "and it really has an impact on all different types of content. The Kindle is fine for traditional fiction-based novels where you are just reading through text, but that is just a fraction of the market that's out there for publishers. You've got children's books; you've got aca-demic books; you've got reference books, things like that. The iPad gives you the capability to reference that content."