Publishing Is Changing, But Not in the Way You Think
"What is our core value proposition?" It's a business jargon-y type of question that the editor in me shudders to hear, but it stuck in my mind -- in a good way -- when I heard it asked this week at our Book Business Live event on March 31st. Clancy Marshall, VP of core systems at Pearson posed the question during the day's first panel which discussed transforming publishing companies in order to thrive in the digital era. The subject of the panel, transformation, would suggest that Pearson's core value proposition had changed in recent years. I was ready for Marshall to share how her company was now a software provider with a variety of learning platforms in its arsenal. She surprised me by saying, "Our core business remains what it always was. We find the world's best educational authors and give them the tools they need to create the best educational products."
It's a statement that I think underscored the import of the entire event. All three of our panels, ranging from discussions of transformations, to analytics, and D2C sales, were not about how publishing had really changed but how the tools to publish, serve authors, and entertain or educate readers have changed. Authors still need help refining and distributing their works. And readers, perhaps more then ever, need help finding great books. But the platforms for creating new titles and discovering new books have changed. It's time for publishers to adapt to these new tools and technologies because, as Marshall noted, what publishers do still has value and it will continue to for generations to come. It was a welcome reminder and a great way to kick off our inaugural Book Business Live: Executive Summit on Digital Publishing.
One of the most important areas publishers need to educate themselves in is data collection and analytics. Our second panel of the day emphasized the need for publishers to utilize data in order to make more informed business decisions. "It's important to work in reverse order," said Tom Breur, VP of data analytics at Cengage Learning, "Instead of going to your data team or partner, and saying 'I want this data,' think about what is the critical business decision you're trying to influence as a result of this data. That often leads to a very different kind of discussion than just, 'I need sales data.'"
Harpercollins senior director of digital business development Adam Silverman echoed Breur's advice, "You can get swamped in data that's just not useful or actionable. Before you start looking into the data, decide very clearly what it is you're looking to learn. Have those questions in mind. Otherwise, you just end up with overload."
Often going hand in hand with data collection is direct-to-consumer marketing. This was the topic of the day's final panel, which emphasized the need for publishers to form a connection with their readership. Content marketing, maintained the panelists, is one of the best ways to form that relationship. "You need to find people who want to build consumer relationships using content," said Rick Joyce, chief marketing officer at Perseus Books Group. "That content is not just a catalog of books and authors. You want to create content that people love so that it can grow and become a vehicle for your books and authors."
Heather Fain, SVP and director of marketing strategy at Hachette, agreed that marketing is no longer telling readers about a book and expecting them to buy it. On social media especially, "it's a more genuine conversation. Listen to what readers say back to you and respond, 'Okay, I have a book for that.'"
The book industry is still changing as new digital platforms and devices continue to enter the market. It's crucial that publishers don't lose sight of who they are and what their core business is. Publishers are the bridge between great authors and the readers who have yet to discover them. The opportunities for connecting those two parties have grown and will continue to do so in the future, and that can only be good for the industry.