Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
My seven-year-old is a voracious reader. Long gone are the days when I had to read something to him or hope that he missed the inappropriate language spray-painted on a street sign. Now I’m in the process of teaching him that not everything he reads is true or completely accurate. And the same can be said about much of what is written on the future of publishing.
Everything being said about the state of publishing is (relatively) true—but not everything that is true is being said, as there are data points and trends being left out of the broad discussion. I’d agree that ebook growth has slowed down for many of the major houses, and that it now accounts for 20-25 percent of their revenues. I’d also agree that the future of publishing is a world in which both print and digital live together, benefitting from each another and helping to drive overall sales.
If we are painting the landscape with a broad brush, there are some significant shifts that have gotten mysteriously little attention. A few worth noting include:
• The U.K’s biggest publisher, Penguin Random House, is closing its largest distribution center and is citing the reason as “an increase in the people reading ebooks.” In the last sentence of the article, it states that print sales were down 5 percent while ebook sales were up 11 percent.
• According to the New York Times, Ron Boire, the new CEO of Barnes & Noble, is leading a push to rebrand the company as a “lifestyle brand,” which includes removing more print books and expanding its offerings in games, toys and other gadgets. Sales are down 4.5 percent for the same quarter year-over-year, and the Barnes & Noble stock is down 20 percent. The company plans to close an additional 10 stores next year.
• Wal-Mart has announced that it is committing $2 billion to expanding its digital footprint in 2016. The company is exploring new digital channels and opportunities in an effort to innovate at a speed similar to Amazon’s. This will most certainly affect all forms of media, including physical books and ebooks.
• In 2015, readers borrowed more than 169 million ebooks from libraries, a 24-percent increase over 2014. This is a record number and a significant increase.
The research house Gartner has done significant work in this area, calling the slowed perceived growth we are experiencing in ebooks part of the normal hype cycle of any media—the “trough of disillusionment.”
When a new technology gets talked up and fails to fundamentally change everything in a short amount of time, the conversation turns negative. But that doesn’t mean change is over. It is the pause in the action, the short breath of time where most traditional firms tout their belief that disruption is over, only to soon find out that real change has just begun. What we are experiencing rather is just the break between the waves. And the next wave could forever change publishing.
Markus Dohle, the CEO of Penguin Random House, recently said that “tech firms are a huge opportunity for publishers, they provide us with the opportunity to reach even more readers, and the book consumer base is growing by 25 million people a year, and so we need each other, and the relationship between tech firms and publishers should not be confrontational but collaborative.”
His words were wise, with both a splash of optimism and warning. Publishers and authors who are only reading the headlines and examining the next fiscal quarter will miss the signs. But those who carefully examine the changing landscape have a distinct opportunity to prepare for a very different publishing world.
Don’t be disillusioned. There was nothing wrong with email, public transportation or cameras, but they were all flipped upside down by Facebook, Uber and iPhones. Digital will change publishing. In fact, it already has.
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