Desperate Times ... ?
No doubt you’ve heard that three major trade publishers—Simon & Schuster, Penguin Group USA and Hachette Book Group have agreed to create a shared website, to be called Bookish.com. More specifically, those three companies will provide start-up financing, but (according to the article) at least 14 publishers will participate.
This is a little surprising, and yet not. My first reaction was that this really speaks to that whiff of desperation that is in the air for publishers. Publishers seems to not be thrilled with the results they are getting with customers coming to their company website. This seems to indicate that they need another solution, another option to Amazon. In the past publishers have had an aversion to working together. Maybe deep concern is driving them to overcome this aversion.
The brick-and-mortar chains, long the focus of trade publishers’ efforts, are stumbling. Borders is bankrupt, there are new rumors about Barnes & Noble on a regular basis. Crown, B. Dalton, and Brentano’s are gone. And there is that nagging lack of a successful changeover to the e-book business model … with further evidence being Bookish.com.
But I thought that this might just be me being cranky, so I decided to wait for Book Expo (BEA).
The first booth I came upon in the exhibit hall was Amazon’s new publishing arm. Yes, they have editors signing books and publishing them. And they announced the big-splash hiring of Laurence Kirshbaum as one of their publishers. Tricky for Amazon—can’t make the publishers who sell their books through Amazon too unhappy. But, at the same time, where are those publishers gonna go? And they clearly see an opportunity.
Foot traffic on Tuesday seemed good, but Wednesday and Thursday seemed VERY light compared to previous years. Unfortunately, this only seemed to confirm my initial thought that these are desperate times for publishers.
Many people go there for the autographs. Not my thing. It’s kind of interesting that Florence Henderson [who played TV sitcom actress Mrs. Brady on "The Brady Bunch"] was there, and it’s slightly more interesting that she had [an off-air romance with actor Barry Williams, who played teenager Greg Brady] … but that’s old news, and I don’t really need her autograph.
So I spent a little time in conference sessions. The most interesting was “You Bought Your e-book Where?”, by Michael Norris of Simba. He brought out some interesting stats and info, some of which put a little damper on the “print is dead” theory:
1. the influence of new gadgets can be overstated―40% of iPad users do not use it to read e-books.
2. When you hear claims from Amazon that e-books are outselling print, drill down a little. Amazon’s top 100 includes 40 percent that are selling for $1 or less. In other words, people are understandably grabbing the free stuff.
3. Print buyers outnumber e-book buyers five to one.
4. The personal computer is the most popular way of reading e-books; this is followed by Kindle, mobile phone, iPad/Sony reader, and Nook/Nook Color
One other, rather stunning, stat that he gave us was that in 2010 46 percent of Americans bought no book of any kind. They may have gotten some as gifts, but … That not only raises questions for our industry, but for our country. As I write this, Sarah Palin is adamant that Paul Revere warned the British, not the colonists. AND her supporters are insisting that this is true.
Yikes! This all just reinforced a couple of obvious points—the publishing industry is capable of doing wonderful things. And, it would be inaccurate and alarmist to call these “desperate” times. However, this is still an industry not finding it’s footing moving forward.