Marcus Leaver: Staying Relevant Biggest Challenge to Publishers, Not E-Books

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

For book publishers managing the transition from pure print businesses to print-digital hybrids, e-books may represent more of a challenge than an opportunity.

“Our biggest challenge will not be e-books,” said outgoing Sterling CEO Marcus Leaver In a speech to book and magazine publishers at the Publishing Business Conference this morning. Leaver spoke of “fighting the tide of e-books” while trying to build and grow an overall publishing business.

The biggest challenge facing publishers is adding value to authors and readers alike and staying “necessary,” said Leaver, who will start on May 1 as chief operating officer of UK publisher Quarto.

Related: Why Publishers Are Relevant

Publishers of children’s books, illustrated books and other books outside of immersive-text reading have had slower growth of e-book revenues in relation to print revenues. Sterling is a niche publisher of adult non-fiction illustrated books and kits.

His comments came at the end of a long list of prescriptions for the publishing industry based on years publishing illustrated books and on his time at Sterling. New ways of selling and marketing books dominated the prescription list.

According to Leaver, discoverability will be among the industry’s greatest challenges and that book publishers should “go to where the audience is” and no longer rely on mass-marketing like book publicity. Book marketing should also be “ubiquitous” and rely more heavily on author participation.

And, finally, the publishing industry should focus less on marketing books to itself and more on marketing directly to consumers. Book Expo America, the industry’s largest trade show where books are bought and sold, should be open to the public and not held in New York, said Leaver.

New sales and marketing channels, developed by new consumer habits (read: the Internet), open up opportunities to monetize publishers’ back-lists, said Leaver. Sterling gets 60% of its revenues from its back-list, according to Leaver. The mid-list, however, is “toast” according to Leaver, because mid-list books aren’t either beautiful and essential or workmanlike and utilitarian. Books that are neither of these things shouldn’t exist, said Leaver.

In an effort to avoid making books that are “toast,” publishers should publish fewer, better books, said Leaver.

“The world does not need another book,” Leaver said.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

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