DBW Interview with Mike Shatzkin, Conference Chair, Part 1

Mike ShatzkinThe Digital Book World Conference + Expo is right around the corner, taking place March 7th-9th in New York. And to find out more about some of the programming that’s scheduled, as well as some insight into the state of the book publishing industry, we sat down with Mike Shatzkin, CEO of The Idea Logical Company and Conference Council Chair of DBW, to get his thoughts.

Shatzkin is a widely-acknowledged thought leader about digital change in the book publishing industry, having been actively involved in trade book publishing since his first job as a sales clerk in the brand new paperback department of Brentano’s Bookstore on Fifth Avenue in 1962. In his 50 years in the industry, Shatzkin has worked in all aspects of the book production process: writing, editing, agenting, packaging, selling, marketing and managing production.

This is part one in a three-part series.

One of the key themes this year is the idea of transformation. How did you land on that, and what makes 2016 such a crucial time to address it?

I landed on the idea when I read an article in The Nashville Tennessean talking about how much of Ingram‘s revenue came from businesses they weren’t in 10 years ago. The minute I read it, I thought, “Wow, this is a transformation story.” Then I started thinking about more of them. I had been quite aware of the massive changes at Wiley, because they sold off or de-emphasized a lot of the trade components I had worked with them on 25 years ago. Once I had the paradigm, I realized that Quarto and Sourcebooks, two clients of ours with CEOs I have known for years, really also fit. It didn’t take long to find the eight companies we’re featuring. And every one of them has a really different story from the others.

Which speaker or speakers are you most excited about this year?

Because I personally love learning new things and am pretty on top of developments within the book business, I’m most looking forward to the speakers from outside the industry. Rand Fishkin on search; Scott Galloway on the Four Horsemen; Jon Taplin on how the techies in Silicon Valley are pulling the revenue away from content creators; Jonathan Kanter on how antitrust might fit into the picture; Jessica Saenger on the anti-monopoly activity in Europe. These speakers are going to cover ground that is not that familiar to me personally. Nor, I suspect, is it familiar to a lot of our audience. But it is all damn important stuff.

The talk that I’m most interested in is by NYU Stern School Professor Scott Galloway, who will be discussing, as you said, “The Four Horsemen”—Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google—and how those companies are shaping the book publishing industry in seismic ways. Obviously this is a major concern to people within the industry, so I’m curious what you think of those companies’ impacts.

I think the impacts of Amazon and Google have been obviously important for several years. Apple made themselves more important starting with the iPhone and iPad and iBookstore and apps. I think now they are the number two ebook outlet for most publishers after Kindle. Facebook is much less understood. But it just keeps growing, and all of us who are on it know how much we learn about what to read, what movies to see, what new music to try, from our Facebook interactions every day. Because learning about Facebook is labor-intensive, the odd fact is that authors can be more sophisticated about it sometimes than publishers. But the key thing about Facebook is that there are big benefits to the publisher and author working together to maximize the impact, more so than with the others. These four companies gain power and importance in direct proportion to the decline of bookstores. The less shelf space is available, the more crucial they all become. And for the most part, shelf space will continue to decline.

Barnes & Noble obviously plays a critical role in book publishing, and it is a company that is currently experimenting with new business models and embodying this theme of transformation, so I was excited to see that Fred Argir, the chief digital officer of B&N, will be giving a talk. How important was it to you to make sure DBW would be hearing from such a historically prominent company this year?

We always want Barnes & Noble on the program. Some years they want to talk. Some years they don’t. This, by the way, is true of many companies. We feel really fortunate that they’ve nominated their new chief digital officer—a position they never had before—to be our speaker. We haven’t really done the prep work for this on-stage Q&A yet, so I am not completely sure what Argir wants to cover. But I think he sees new opportunities for our biggest retail chain to be more collaborative partners with the publishers. That would be a great topic for him and for our audience. I have no doubt he’ll break some new ground.

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