Another excellent Publishing Business Conference and Expo took place last week. Having three keynote speakers provided a very interesting cross-section of information and opinion. Amazon was the focus for the first two.
Michael Weinstein's Publishing Panorama
I know, it sounds like a game show hosted by Regis Philbin. But there are a couple of recent events in the publishing industry that could be seen as either good or bad news on first blush, but may actually be just the opposite. Let's start our game-- I. Random House/Penguin Merger finalized, a.k.a "Go Big or Go Extinct" That's one of the advertising slogans from the recent movie "Pacific Rim." Judging from reviews and tickets sales, it sounds like that movie might have managed to do both.
There’s been a great deal of conjecture lately about the future of the bookstore: What will happen to the B&N stores (especially if they do plan to reduce the number of stores)? What about independent bookstores? Will Amazon crush bricks-and-mortar stores out of existence? Oh, lordy, will there even be such a thing as a bookstore!?!?
Not surprisingly, this all made me think of a song. Under time pressure to have a song for the first Earth Day concert in 1970, the great Tom Paxton created the gold standard for songs about ecology when he wrote “Whose Garden Was This.” In it, the singer lives in a future world where flowers and forests no longer exist, birds no longer fly and he’s only seen pictures of blue rivers and heard recordings of breezes. In the end, he desperately makes us swear it’s true that “The forest had trees, the meadows were green, the oceans were blue and birds really flew.”
With all the issues facing bookstores today and all of the conjecture (some might call it sturm und drang) about the future of bookstores, it made me wonder: Will Paxton’s great-granddaughter one day write a similar song about bookstores? Will she make us swear that we went to a place where we could touch a printed book at all, let alone before it arrived in the mail?; where we could say to another human being, not an algorithm or a database, “What do you recommend?”
The Guild (formerly called The Bookbinders’ Guild of New York) was formed in 1925 by a group of 35 craftsmen who met to discuss significant developments in bookmaking. Today we are a volunteer organization with membership of more than 500, from the ranks of all type of publishing staff, vendors and freelancers. We sponsor educational trips, hold monthly informational programs and help to raise money for the Literacy Assistance Center. In 20 years we’re very proud to have raised over $320,000 for the LAC.
Last week was our biggest annual event—the 27th annual New York Book Show. Each year entries are submitted from around the country for books published in the last year. Entries include either covers/jackets or complete books, and are separated into categories. Just within “Children’s Trade” we have “picture book”, “young adult”, “pop-up”, “covers and jackets”, etc. Judges who are expert in specific areas volunteer their time and expertise.
Then in the Spring we show off the winners and have a big celebration.
Steve Earle wrote: “The revolution starts now / when you rise above your fear / And tear the walls around you down / The revolution starts here.”
Thankfully, time has finally brought us companies (big and small) that are re-thinking traditional content distribution business models. They’ve done this based on shifting technologies, shifting culture, sinking economies, new demands, and have begun creating new approaches. There are many out there, I wanted to mention a few examples.
The returns are in on sales for Amazon and Barnes & Noble from the holiday sales period. Remember that “surge” that I mentioned in my last blog? Like the song says “it ain’t necessarily so.”
On the one hand, Amazon had its biggest holiday season ever, with the Kindle Fire being its number one product—specifically the “#1 best-selling, most gifted and most wished for product."
Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble sales were down almost across the board—in stores, on-line and sales of Nook. Revenues were down 12.6% from the previous year. The good news is that sales of digital content were up 13.1%, “indicating that at least those who own Nooks are using them to buy content.” While B&N would not specifically break out Nook sales they did say that after Black Friday sales “fell short of expectations for the balance of holiday.”