Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The future of publishing: retail?

Today for your delectation and delight, here's a selection of publishing news for you.

According to Publishers Weekly, ebook sales in June rose 167% while print plunged:

E-book sales rose 167% in June, to $80.2 million, at the 15 houses that reported figures to AAP’s monthly sales report and closed the first half of the year with sales up 161%, to $473.8 million...
...Trade paperback sales had the largest decline, down 64%, while children’s hardcover sales were off 31%. Adult hardcover sales fell 25%, mass market sales were down 22% and children’s paperback was off 13%.

The shift to print book as art object or special keepsake is moving very fast. As Amazon makes the Kindle more and more affordable, this change will accelerate.

And speaking of Amazon, according to the Wall Street Journal the Behemoth Everyone Likes to Hate is talking to publishers about:

...launching a Netflix Inc.-like service for digital books, in which customers would pay an annual fee to access a library of content, according to people familiar with the matter.
It's unclear how much traction the proposal has, the people said. Several publishing executives said they aren't enthusiastic about the idea...

This article is behind a paywall but I don't think those 'familiar with the situation' have shared much hard information, so I really couldn't guess how/if/when this will come to anything. If it does happen, and I think it might, I can't see it as being anything but bad news for authors' finances. A catastrophe, in fact. (Look at what's happened to songwriters, movie writers, with streaming video and music, resulting from the impact of the aforementioned Netflix and now Spotify.) But, hey, perhaps I'm just having a bad day.

In terms of trying to peer into the future, the Economist has a piece on the Great Digital Expectations for publishing today. To me the most interesting bit was this:

Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is the gradual disappearance of the shop window. Brian Murray, chief executive of HarperCollins, points out that a film may be released with more than $100m of marketing behind it. Music singles often receive radio promotion. Publishers, on the other hand, rely heavily on bookstores to bring new releases to customers’ attention and to steer them to books that they might not have considered buying. As stores close, the industry loses much more than a retail outlet. Publishers are increasingly trying to push books through online social networks. But Mr Murray says he hasn’t seen anything that replicates the experience of browsing a bookstore.

I've been saying this for a while. Readers are, first and foremost, customers. They/we must be wooed. Publishers need to control retail space, concrete and virtual, even if it's just kiosks in malls. Think Apple stores for readers. Oh, and they need brilliant--not just good, but brilliant--customer service, and extraordinary info capture. Amazon already has all that. Publishers need to catch up.

So what would such a place look like?

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