Publishing Industry Notes of Interest

7.26.09 | | 7 comments

The August issue of Book Business Magazine came this week. It included quite a few interesting tidbits that are of interest.

One article looked at the latest annual (2009) Book Industry Trends report, which includes comprehensive sales data on the last five years and a forecast for the next five years. While the report acknowledges the overall decline in units sold during 2008, that decline is exepcted to turn into a modest growth this year, and growth of 2.2% next year.

More surprising was the growth in the number of publishers cited in the article. In 2008, R.R. Bowker reported that there were 130,477 active publishers in the U.S, based on the organizations that have obtained ISBNs for their books. This represents a very surprising 27% increase over 2007.

Another article mentioned that Simon and Schuster has made available for purchase 5,000 ebook titles on the document sharing site Scribd.com, and has made previews of thousands of additional titles available there also. With support like that, it seems likely that Scribd will be of interest to many more publishers as a place to distribute their books in ebook form.

The issue also includes a comparison of 20 leading digital book printers (includes 13 print-on-demand printers and 7 short-run printers) and a fascinating discussion of how the editorial function might change in the future as publishing becomes more digital and more Internet-based.

7 comments: “Publishing Industry Notes of Interest

  1. Bradly Baird

    Interesting. It is fascinating to watch as the industry prepares to shift with technology. At least the are not hiding their heads under the sand.

  2. Wm Morris

    I agree that this news is interesting. I don’t know that publishers aren’t hiding their heads under the sand — ebook pricing, for example, is still set in such a way as to protect hardbound editions.

    I find the 27% increase intriguing. It suggests to me that ebooks and POD have lowered the barrier of entry for small publishers.

  3. Walt Eddy

    With so much going digital and the trend likely to continue and accelerate with more and more readers over time utilizing ebooks, pdas, phones, minicomputers, etc. to read books, especially with “green” picking up momentum, won’t writers form alliances to eliminate publishers, booksellers, and marketing middlemen, who take such a big cut, all together?

  4. Kent Larsen Post author

    Walt Eddy (3), in general, no, because writers aren’t able to do what publishers, booksellers, etc. do and will still need to do in the digital age.

    While I think that the move to digital forms and delivery will happen and will transform the industry, I don’t think this will necessarily mean that the roles that publishers, booksellers, etc. have will not need to be done.

    I suggest you look a little deeper at what publishers, booksellers, etc. do — all the detailed functions they perform to get books produced and sold. Yes digital systems eliminate some of the steps and transform many others. BUT, the overall function still needs to be done.

    And I don’t see any evidence that any digital systems are being created to automate these steps so that authors can do them alone. In particular, marketing resists such automation, because once automated, marketing tends to overwhelm the audience–which starts to fight it off as “spam” or filter it out as advertising.

    The reason these middlemen take such a big cut is that their role takes a lot of work and effort and yields more profit, possibly as much or more than the contribution of the author himself.

    Again, look deeper into what these functions accomplish. I think you will find that much of it will still be necessary no matter what model you apply in the digital age.

  5. Kent Larsen Post author

    William (2): There is no question that barriers to entry have all but disappeared to becoming a publisher or self-publisher.

    The unfortunate part is that most of these new publishers hardly know what a publisher does, let alone how to do a good job at it.

  6. Emma

    Walt Eddy (3): It would be nice to see middlemen cut out where they can be. We (bookhitch) are already trying to do as much as we can to cut out booksellers (at least online) as we all know they can take up to 55% of a sale.

    Kent Larson (4,5): You’re right too: there will be no way to cut out middlemen such as bookstores in brick & mortar stores unless everyone moves their transactions online (not likely to happen soon). Middlemen do play a role in connecting the pieces, but distributors could be cut out (Anheiser Bush is doing this) so that publishers transact directly with bookstores to save money.

    In short, the industry needs to change with the times as it hasn’t for decades: there are always better ways to do business. The publishing industry has been complacent for too many years (in my opinion) and POD is a good way to shake things up a bit: cuts a lot of waste as there is no longer a need to do larger print runs of 5,000 books as you print to meet demand.

  7. Kent Larsen Post author

    Emma (6), I think even your point is a little too simplistic. Publishers and middlemen do more than what you hint at.

    Its not just a matter of bringing all transactions online. Middlemen also spread information about titles (esp. new titles) to either retailers or customers, and they categorize and even promote titles they think will do well.

    We now, before a significant portion of sales happen in ebooks, have over 500,000 NEW titles introduced each year. With barriers to entry extremely low now, and possibly even lower in the future (although I’m not sure how they could go lower), the number of new titles is only going to grow.

    I don’t know about you, but I then need some way of filtering through those 500,000 new titles (along with the millions already in print) to find what interests me. Middlemen do that.

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