Biggest Problems Facing Publishing: Disappearing Shelf Space, Discovery, Pace of Change

The biggest problems facing book publishers today are disappearing bookshelf space at bookstores, the growing problem of how readers will discover new authors and books, and the fast pace of change across the industry.

“The loss of shelf space and that whole discovery mechanism — how do you replace it and how do you replace it in a way that will keep consumers going to books?” asked Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy, speaking at the Digital Book World 2014 conference in New York.

In the past decade book publishers have watched as the number of independent bookstores in the U.S. has shrunk, the number of Barnes & Noble retail stores has decreased, and the major bookstore chain Borders has gone out of business altogether. Many libraries, too, have seen their funding decrease and have dedicated more of their space to computers, movies and music.

With fewer books on fewer feet of shelf space across the country, publishers wonder how readers will discover new books and authors — especially those who are as yet unknown.

New book discovery tools and trends are emerging in the industry, however, said O’Reilly Media CEO Tim O’Reilly, citing the rise of authors as the most important part of a book marketing plan due to the rise of social media. Authors are both the key to marketing a book and they develop new techniques for marketing books.

“It’s authors showing the way far more than the publishers how readers discover new books,” said O’Reilly.  “You should help them in any way you can and then take what they do that works and apply it to other authors.”

While Reidy praised authors who were able to effectively market themselves and discover new marketing techniques, she pointed out that many authors didn’t want to spend time promoting themselves and wanted to focus on writing.

David Nussbaum, CEO of F+W Media, which owns and operates Digital Book World, revealed that F+W seeks to do business only with authors who have their own online marketing platforms already.

An author with a large enough marketing platform may not need a publisher, said Dominique Raccah, CEO of Naperville, Ill.-based publisher Sourcebooks.

“We’ve got to be thinking of new services and how to provide the platform,” she said. “If the author already has a platform, then why do they need us?”


The Pace of Change

Each of the CEOs speaking at Digital Book World 2014 lamented that the fast pace of change in the publishing industry makes it difficult to make good, well-informed decisions.

“We keep hearing that the rate of change is slowing down, that ebooks are plateauing,” said Raccah. “For me, it’s moving much faster and the data-gathering time is narrowing, so you’re making decisions without the data you’d like to have.”

Part of the recent changes in the media business is that now books and other media are more in direct competition with each other than ever before because they’re all available in the same place: on desktops and mobile devices.

“We’re competing against all the other media, and that’s always been a challenge, but it’s now an easier challenge for the other media,” said Simon & Schuster CEO Reidy. “We need to strengthen where books are” in the media landscape.

9 thoughts on “Biggest Problems Facing Publishing: Disappearing Shelf Space, Discovery, Pace of Change

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  3. Michael W. Perry

    People today linger in coffee shops and small cafes. Perhaps these publishers should rent space near the back of them, with independent agencies handling the weekly stocking much like magazines are handled. The shop or cafe wouldn’t have to handle the stocking, just ring up the sales and take a share of the profit.

    The selection wouldn’t be nearly as great, but that means that the books that are stocked would get more attention. Publishers could rotate the selection and see what takes off.

    1. catherine

      Are you suggesting that people drink coffee/consume food while browsing books? The obvious concern here would be books getting soiled, wouldn’t it? Also, what would peoples’ motivation be to buy the books if they are already able to freely read them?

      1. Tom

        Catherine. There is a thing called a lost leader. Also, Maybe just the first chapter would be presented. Michael’s offers a new perspective, and the way his idea is cast off most is likely the same resistance that will continue. Kodak had the same open mind.

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