New York - I am in the Big Apple to attend Book Expo America - one of the largest book fairs in the world. This trade only show brings together nearly everyone in the biz from the big six publishers to many of the independent publishers and bookstores across North America. It is quite a gathering of the literati.
My attendance was primarily as an author, hawking a new book currently titled “Smart Business Design - How to gain competitive advantage in the 21st century”.
The book deals with a fundamental concern of what Chris Anderson of Wired magazine has this month called the New new economy. That is that the majority of business people struggle to develop in all four areas critical to the success of a 21st century business - areas outside their experience which include:
* understanding and developing business models
* designing and delivering compelling experiences
* understanding how to leverage new media and social networks
* developing the skills to attract and nurture great people
Unfortunately, nowhere was the above problem more apparent than in the book publishing industry.
They are seeing their business model being eroded by online sellers and they have virtually no answer. Amazon are releasing their books for USD9.99. Far below the $25 or so the industry requires to maintain profitability.
They are seeing their well developed marketing channels being eroded by a lack of understanding about online tactics. Tactics their ebook competitors and smaller publishers are quickly mastering.
They are seeing their independent booksellers suffering in most markets. With fewer people browsing their shelves there is little they can do. Their best tactic is to develop and promote their local community of readers yet few have the skills (and as was pointed out, the personality) required to utilise social networking techniques.
While the demise of books and the book industry is slow and inevitable there appears to be no demise in reading. If anything we are all reading more these days. It’s just that it is in other forms to a physical book. Hence the online market is developing at breakneck speed driven by digital readers such as Kindle, Sony Reader and even the iPhone.
Yet the industry hangs on tight to its structured, physical distribution model. As the president of one major publisher told me “there is still a lot of money to be made behind the front line”. Yet digital is growing rapidly and starting to really eat into traditional channels. As one presenter pointed out there is some hope and he said the companies to watch are Wiley and O’Reilly.
And the publishers look like dinosaurs caught in the spotlight. They have little to no constructive response. One panel session which included three CEOs of the big six publishers spent most of their time arguing over how to deal with Amazon and Google. They had little insight into how to deal with a shifting demographic and industry in confusion.
And it comes down to the people. Unfortunately the book industry is an older population of literate folk who don’t really get online that much. And that is out of step with their market.
What is concerning is that they are not spinning off innovative smaller companies to test and develop new channels. They are unwilling to adjust while watching their US$28B industry erode before their eyes. They are terrified of going the same way as the music industry, where all the major labels have lost market and influence due to online forces, yet seem incapable of responding.
This is an industry in crisis. The irony is it may be where I can realise the best sales of my book, which is designed to help individual organisations and even industry sectors migrate into the modern world. I know of at least six CEOs who should be reading it.