Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Over the last 12-18 months, after a challenging, industry-evolving 5-7 years, there is a growing sense of cautious positivity in many parts of the book world. Print book sales are rebounding (or at least not still sliding, depending on whom you listen to), and ebook sales are now on a more predictable, if slower, and more diverse trajectory.
Publishing being publishing, terms like “gentle” and “cautious” are applied to any emotive description, whether optimism or despair. But for those remaining, the sense of a new dawn for the industry is unmistakeable.
That said, new dawns shouldn’t be basked in for long, and this is the starting point publishing needs to work and grow from.
Note, this is a new start, not a return to how everything was before, which I don’t think I’d want even if it were possible. It is important we accept where we are: while the print market has stabilized, after nearly a decade of shrinking year on year, it is still smaller than it once was. Furthermore, while ebook sales are diversifying a little, no one else has come through yet to even barely rival the brilliant but uncompromising and supplier-challenging Amazon.
Put frankly, today’s bookselling market is not big enough for all existing publishers to survive and thrive in. As a result, publishers can fight to the bottom and see who survives in this new world, or they can be smarter and seek to expand their market. Publishing businesses need to consider the basic business maxim: if the pots are smaller, you need more of them.
In this now digitally-connected world, international opportunities, despite Brexit for UK publishers in Europe, are now within grasp for nearly all businesses. International growth is a key part of the strategy for our publishing businesses, and I have written about this elsewhere. For this article, however, I want to look at thinking outside the current market as a complement to stretching it across international borders.
When I started my first publishing business, in 2005, I went to a talk shortly after on “non-traditional sales outlets” that I thought might give me some insight into selling into gift shops. I left shortly after the first three items: selling “on the Internet,” through new retailer “Amazon” and through “WHSmith.” There was clearly little to be learned, but this anecdote emphasizes how far we’ve come and also how far we can now go.
Publishers are—or should be—expert producers of content that, even with greater competition, still has massive global appeal. People may read differently, but in this digital age and with international efforts to improve literacy, they also read more than they ever have before. The first thing publishers now need to do, rather than focussing on retail outlets, is to identify where there is or would be reader demand in the wider market.
To support this, one of the largest growth areas highlighted by the Publishers Association’s annual Statistics Yearbook was in non-consumer -books sales. It also highlighted that school spending on books in the UK has grown significantly over the last year. Furthermore, UK libraries may have significant funding issues, but that isn’t the same in all countries where some libraries still benefit from strong spending support from their governments. And in addition to the sizable corporate libraries, many of the huge growth tech companies regularly look for employee perks (to counter the long hours and pressure, and what better than books…).
Many publishers have recognized the need to work more closely with the customer and have then gone on to waste large pots of budget on trying to infiltrate book groups, revamp their websites to sell directly, etc.. Customers are now key, but they won’t come to the publisher and are not interested in the publisher coming to them. Therefore, the only solution is the third option: put the publisher’s product where the customers are.
And there is a relatively easy way to do this: working with targeted intermediaries who also have a vested interest in putting your products in the same place. Whether budget-spending libraries, governments, institutions or organizations looking to please or support their employees or customers, there are many options out there that will add significant further lines to publishers’ annual budgets.
Looking outside the market is a process we have only just started to embrace, but the early signs are already positive. In 2017, we expect non-traditional sales routes to generate up to 10 percent, possibly more, of revenue across our publishing businesses.
In summary, we may have reached a new dawn, but rather than sit still and watch it fade, publishers must take this opportunity to stretch their reach and creative imaginations to expand their revenue lines. If the money pots are now smaller, it is time to have many more of them and watch them grow.
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