One CEO’s View of the Future of Publishing

David NussbaumBy David Nussbaum, Chairman and CEO, F+W Media, Inc.

Will ebooks cannibalize physical book sales? How will new books be “discovered” in an age of digital bookshelves? How many bricks-and-mortar bookstores will exist in five years and how much shelf space will be allotted for books? What’s the future for Borders and will Google become a dominant bookseller?

And most importantly, how will consumer buying habits change?

These questions and many others confront publishers of all sizes today, and F+W Media is no exception. In fact, these shifts in the industry led to our launching the Digital Book World Conference + EXPO last year, and why we sought out the industry expertise of our partners at The Idea Logical Company, Publishers Lunch and Publishers Weekly.

At this year’s conference, I will be moderating the panel “A CEO’s View of the Future” which features four superstar senior publishing executives, including Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers; Jane Friedman of Open Road Integrated Media; Brian Napack of Macmillan US, and David Steinberger of Perseus Books Group. The five of us will discuss these and other issues, with each offering insights on how they are leading their respective companies through these disruptive times, and seizing the opportunities that lie ahead.

As the moderator, the focus won’t be on F+W’s strategy in this new era, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss here how our company is marching forward, and how we see the future.

Content-First, Format-Fluid

F+W MediaOur company is community-oriented, vertically focused, and we insist that our leaders think about the business in a content-first, format-fluid way. Any of our content can be packaged and sold as a physical book, an ebook, a magazine, an online TV show, an online educational package, and myriad other ways.

Our content is imagined, acquired, edited and designed by people who are enthusiasts themselves; members of the communities they serve. We have artists, woodworkers, crafters, hunters, etc., within our publishing groups to ensure we produce high-quality and authentic content. These employees also blog, tweet, and speak at conferences, ensuring that they are on top of all trends, and are “of” the community.

In addition to traditional publishing roles, we focus on bringing non-traditional publishing talent to the team. For example, in the past year we have hired an ecommerce director, an email manager, a third-party account specialist, a traffic manager, eCommerce store marketing managers, and online product managers. Positions entirely unrelated to creating content, but instead with commerce front of mind.

Shifting Sales Channels Creates Opportunities

Our products and services are sold through major booksellers like B&N, Amazon, Borders and leading independents, and through specialty retailers like Urban Outfitters, but also direct-to-consumer through 22 of our own eCommerce stores.

Through our marketing department, tapping into our customer data and user preferences, and our community expertise, we aggressively drive sell-through at these channels. And we work with our retail partners to create proprietary product, custom-made for our shared consumers.

We learn more about consumers of our content – what they buy, when and why – each and every day. Knowing our consumers is critical. And we work hard at audience acquisition by using search engine marketing (ROI $4 in revenue, for each $1 spent); our affiliate network of over 1,100 partners; our social networking outreach and a dedicated effort to aggressively grow our email database.

One Size Fits None: No Single Solution

From a statistical perspective we reach over 3 million consumers every month; we publish 600 new books every year; we have a 3,500 title back list, and over 1,100 ebooks; we have over 200 websites, produce over 30 online competitions, and offer many online educational programs. We also host 12 major live events, including the Digital Book World Conference and the Writer’s Digest Conference later this month.

I’m optimistic about the future because immersive reading is going to become even more important in the flash and dash days of the web; because the ease of purchasing on devices will increase the numbers of books sold each year; that bookstores will become even more lifestyle-oriented, leading to more time and more purchases made in the store; and that a new multi-media approach to books will mean that there will be even more reason to invest in a favorite topic, hobby or author.

While our portfolio may not fully align with that of your Company, we are all under the ‘big tent’ of media. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and we won’t all approach new opportunities the same way.

But we all have much to learn from one another.

I am very much looking forward to sitting with our panel at Digital Book World 2011, and to hearing from all of our other speakers throughout the three days of the conference. Just as there is no one single solution, the many voices that make up the conversation need to be heard. These creative leaders will have much to share about how they and their teams see the future of publishing – and their strategies for success in the new year.

I hope you’ll join us.

David Nussbaum is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of F+W Media. He was the Chief Executive Officer of Penton Media Inc. from 2004 through the sale of the Company to Prism Media Holdings in February 2007. He has been named one of MIN’s Most Intriguing People, and an ‘Industry Influencer’ on the 2010 FOLIO: 40.

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