Publishing Business Conference and Expo 2013: Still Talking About Amazon, But There Are Glimmers of Hope
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.
First, Steve Wasserman delivered the bad news when he spoke on "The Amazon Effect Redux." The one good thing (ok, my opinion) is that Amazon has "upended" those in both the magazine and book industry who published with one eye looking to the past and wanting to hang on to the old way of doing things.
However, he believes that Amazon's hold has grown even stronger and wider. For example:
- Amazon has signed a deal with the CIA to provide "web-based tech infrastructure"
- Amazon now has 3% of the tablet market in China-this translates to $27 billion.
- They are looking into a smartphone. The real target is China, where people prefer reading on their smartphone
- For some university presses, 60% of their business is done with Amazon.
- They have accomplished same day delivery in the U.K.; and are making deals with various states here in the U.S. to build more distribution centers to accomplish that here in targeted areas.
- Per Wasserman, Bezos believes that no "gatekeepers" will be needed eventually-no agent or editor or publisher. Mostly self-publishing. This is, clearly, part of the Bezos belief in publishing as commodity, not art.
Following him was Jason Merkoski (speaking on "Reading 2.0"). He was one of the first members of the Kindle team.
He argued that most book and magazine publishers don't really care about their readers because readers still do not get information on how to contact the publisher. Therefore, these publishers don't really know anything about their readers/customers.
Amazon "gets it right" by gathering an enormous amount of demographic data about its customers, he argues. Merkoski recently published a book with a traditional publisher, but he has applied Amazon's methods, and so is able to have an enormous amount of information about his readers. He knows which chapters are better liked, he knows who his readers are, where they live, etc., etc. He argues that this is absolutely imperative for publishers to do in order to succeed. He believes that knowing your readers and, therefore, being better positioned to give them what they want is necessary to succeed. For example, when his book is revised, he knows which chapters require more re-write.
I have mixed feeling about this. Sure, it's just better business to have more information about your potential customers. But there are also lines that can be crossed: lines regarding privacy and lines regarding using that information to create "product" as opposed to the creativity that goes into any kind of writing. Taken to its extreme, is a book created simply on demographic data of what will sell no longer art? I'd say yes.
There is a flip side to the ever-increasing Amazon dominance of the world. As has been discussed before, the Amazon effect combined with the merging of publishers also creates opportunities for small start-ups taking a different approach.
Another session at the conference highlighted multiple very interesting examples of this. Specifically:
- The Head and Hand Press - A publisher and more, their goal is to create an "equitable relationships between authors and the tools they need". This translates to not just publishing, but renting space to writers, focusing on creating "well crafted books" whether they are delivered in print or digital format, and more.
- Wattpad - Focusing on social reading, Wattpad offers readers a chance to connect, share stories, etc.
- Publerati - An eBook-only start-up that focuses on fiction and donates a portion of all sales to the Worldreader Organization. Their books are sold thru all major channels, but sell for no more than $4.99. They also act as literary agent for each of the authors on their list.
- Atavist - both a media and software company. They produce Creatavist, a digital storytelling tool and The Atavist, an award-winning nonfiction publication.
The Book Industry Guild of New York also recently had a meeting on start-ups in publishing.
We each still have a choice here-allow ourselves to get crushed by the Amazon juggernaut, or find ways (through these and many other start-ups) to maintain that spark of creativity and individuality that attracted so many of us to publishing.
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.