A New and Powerful Book Industry Sector Is Born
Self-publishing and online services, e-books, and digital demand printing are joined into a new and powerful sector that is transforming the industry. For industry professionals whose career satisfactions and livelihoods are bonded to the future of the book, this new sector offers a wild ride and a venturesome future.
This transformation may be even more systemic than the one 30 years ago that wiped out careers in less than a decade, managing what used to be known as composition, paste-up, camera, film and plate work in book production and manufacturing—both on the publishing as well as the vendor side.
Yet, I do believe today’s transformation will not be as sharp in its consequence to career opportunities in the book world as it was then.
Yes, many jobs are being lost. Printers in particular are seeing automation and digitally driven laser and ink-jet technologies continue to shrink plant-crew sizes and the numbers of plants themselves. Office Depot, Staples, the UPS Store and FedEx Kinko's have become the local print shop. Being a printer means, increasingly, rendering a service rather than practicing a trade.
On the publishing side, however, the transformation is spawning a new realm of opportunity alongside the old. Editorial, distribution and marketing skill sets are moving from corporate towers to practical business and home offices.
The hardy band of book publicists, developers and marketers who worked inside the independent publishing space for the past 30 years have now seen their ranks augmented by this new breed of independent book-development and book-distribution professionals coming out of the legacy industry. They understand how to blend the needs of online, brick-and-mortar and special sales channels with print and electronic content delivery and Internet sales.
Admittedly, this is an anecdotal observation on my part—but it is borne out by the growth of freelance and networked editing and marketing services spawned by the new print and e-book demand and self-publishing industry sector.
The developments that are fueling this transformation are epitomized by the Wall Street Journal’s feature article on June 3, “Vanity Press Goes Digital.” It is the latest in an increasing number of pieces appearing in the press, magazines and online that explore the e-book and print-on-demand explosion and the digital revolution taking place in the book industry.
Tellingly, of the eight leaders fueling the self-publishing revolution whose headshots are illustrated by WSJ—from the well-known Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Steve Jobs of Apple to the new guys on the block, Trip Adler of Scribd and Mark Coker of Smashwords, and includuing Kevin Weiss of Author Solutions, Bob Young of Lulu, Steve Wilson of Fast Pencil and William Lynch of Barnes & Noble—none comes to the industry with a background in what might be called conventional publishing or book manufacturing.
What these leaders do have in common is an entrepreneurial genius for out-of-the-box thinking, marketing, distribution and digital technology. The future of book publishing as an enterprise is being shaped by them, their peers and their companies. But also telling is that none of them creates or develops content. They are the gatekeepers and producers for new online and digitally driven channels of access to readers for those that do produce content—authors and publishers. They have tilted the scales away from the legacy publishers.
We can look to the past for perspectives, and can recall how dominance of the print-based industry passed into the hands of media giants such as Pearson, Bertelsmann, Elsevier, Hachette, Thomson and News Corp., and to large-scale independents such as Wiley and Simon & Schuster. However, those who owned the means of distribution—chain stores, indies, wholesalers and distributors—had little independent reach into the pool of authoring. Consequently, distribution and publishing were mutually dependent on each other.
Today, the unbundling of this traditional interdependence as well as of traditional authoring conventions, workflow and reading habits, have unsettled industry business models. A new interdependency is emerging, weighted at the moment in favor of online distributors and services that are offering authors new options for reaching their markets.
The industry response has been mixed, but certain. Legacy publishers and vendors are showing welcome signs of coming to terms with the new digital distribution and self-publishing sector. Unlike music, video, games, film and theater, reading at heart is not a performance art (enhanced e-books notwithstanding). Developing and presenting narrative content is less reliant on the delivery system (print book, e-book) than are the performance arts—and that is why I think that legacy publishers and independents have been able to buy time while they figure out how to adjust.
Scrappy and creative publishers are connecting with readers in new ways (e.g., Open Road, Cursor, Sourcebooks, Harlequin). Innovative book manufacturers now see themselves as providing content delivery and not just printing (e.g., Edwards, Malloy, Thomson-Shore, BookMasters, McNaughton & Gunn—as well as Donnelley, Worldcolor, Courier, et al). The new breed of demand printers (e.g., Lightning Source, ColorCentric, TextStream, IBT), and of digital asset management and pre-press services (e.g., LibreDigital, Firebrand, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, Value Chain) have developed a value proposition in content and data warehousing and dissemination that can power everything from production to marketing delivery systems.
Despite these sources of consolation for traditional players, Jeffrey Trachtenberg’s and Geoffrey Fowler’s excellent WSJ survey piece on self-publishing reveals that a new and powerful business sector has emerged in the book industry. It is what I call the "online publishing services and distribution industry."
There is not yet much data on this industry, but I would guess it accounts for $500 million to $1 billion in annual non-hardware revenue. Its customer base consists of authors and publishers, between them responsible for the approximately 750,000 new U.S.-based “non-traditional” titles Bowker reported as having been published last year, along with the backlists they and their followers and networks purchase.
Note that this sector includes the exploding e-book market, but at this stage is primarily defined by book-at-a-time and print-on-demand books. Most of these books now reach readers via UPS, FedEx and USPS. The brick-and-mortar chain and independent stores, and even the publicly owned and grounded community libraries are responding by bringing e-book search and access on to their premises. In this, they may be helped by the accelerating acceptance of the ubiquitous on-site Espresso Book Machine book-at-a time printer, with its access to more than a million titles, and growing.
This emerging publishing sector is less a replacement for traditional distribution than a new option. Although Clay Shirky asserts (also in the WSJ, on June 4) that “reading is an unnatural act; we are no more evolved to read books than we are to use computers,” his larger point that “the net restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture” is a factor in the emergence of this new sector. As with society’s response to Gutenberg’s revolution that ushered in the era of print and the institutions of literacy and education that resulted, so he believes “the Internet will require new cultural institutions as well as new technologies.”
We see this requirement fulfilled today in the emergence of the new online publishing services and distribution industry, in the wide array of new publication and service companies, in social networking, and in a whole new set of production, workflow, content management, distribution, and data dissemination protocols and techniques.
In occasional future blogs, I will discuss various aspects of this new industry sector, as well as note some of the several dozen firms in this sector not mentioned in the WSJ article, including of course, the gorilla knocking on the e-book and print-on-demand door, Google, which got nary a mention in the WSJ piece.
Note: For full disclosure, I am also president and publisher of Worthy Shorts Inc., an online publishing service for professionals that is still in development. (www.worthyshorts.com).
- Baker & Taylor Inc.
- Barnes & Noble Inc.
- BookMasters Inc.
- ColorCentric Corp.
- Courier Corp.
- Edwards Brothers
- Elsevier Health Sciences
- Fedex Corporation
- Firebrand Technologies LLC
- Hachette Book Group
- Ingram Digital
- Integrated Book Technology
- John Wiley & Sons
- Libre Digital
- Lightning Source Inc.
- Malloy Inc.
- McNaughton & Gunn Inc.
- Office Depot
- Overdrive Inc.
- Pearson Company
- RR Donnelley
- Simon and Schuster Inc.
- Sourcebooks Inc.
- Thomson-Shore Inc.
Eugene G. Schwartz is editor at large for ForeWord Reviews, an industry observer and an occasional columnist for Book Business magazine. In an earlier career, he was in the printing business and held production management positions at Random House, Prentice-Hall/Goodyear and CRM Books/Psychology Today. A former PMA (IBPA) board member, he has headed his own publishing consultancy, Consortium House. He is also Co-Founder of Worthy Shorts Inc., a development stage online private press and publication service for professionals as well as an online back office publication service for publishers and associations. He is on the Publishing Business Conference and Expo Advisory Board.