I am galvanized. Not only have I always wanted to say that, but it’s true. I am in awe of what is happening in this industry. Attending Making Information Pay (MIP) a couple of weeks ago (for additional coverage, go here) fueled this feeling. A few things, in particular, struck a chord. First, Dave Thompson, vice president of sales analysis at Random House, shared statistics to put some things in perspective, and stressed the importance of not only collecting data, but interpreting it carefully. “There are so many half-truths and distortions in our industry,” he said. “Right now, in the worst period in our history, on a unit basis, sales are down 1.2 percent in 2009. People have purchased 1.2 percent fewer books than last year.”
This statistic just does not jive with the degree of pessimism that has been attached to this industry.
It’s not that the realities facing publishers are not harsh. The effects of a shifting marketplace combined with an economic recession are not to be slighted. But publishers are not the sloth-like entities they are often portrayed as by the media.
Marcus Leaver, president of Sterling Publishing, who spoke at MIP, outlined new approaches his company is taking, including “questioning anything and everything.” About every project and process, he said, “We have to ask, ‘Are we doing this because we can, because we’ve always done so … or because we can measure it?’ We’ve got to think hard about why we’re doing what we’re doing every step along the way.”
While each company will vary in how it addresses the challenges at hand, some common themes are emerging: Publishers are being more selective about the titles they publish, moving toward a focused, category-leading approach.
At MIP, Leaver, as well as Dominique Raccah, publisher and CEO of independent publisher Sourcebooks, stressed the importance of specialization. “We believe that horizontal is road kill,” said Leaver. “We’ve all got to specialize.”