Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Brave New World Indie Conundrum

At first glance we read the article in PW ‘Indie Booksellers Debate the E-book Conundrum’ and had pangs of déjà vu. Had we not written about this very issue in the Brave New World report back in 2006?

The debate then was similar to the debate reported today by PW. The only difference is that retail in the last two years has not really responded to the digital opportunity. Far from grasping the channel, exploiting existing relationships and channels, many retailers have sat back and expected to be spoon-fed. This has given publishers the excuse to experiment with digital vertical branding and digital direct offers and of course has introduced the growth in the new digital aggregator / wholesaler.

No one has a god given right to exist in the value chain between the author and the reader, they have to add value and in the digital world. The retailers, have in the main, failed to do so.

Yes we have Waterstones, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Dymocks all ebook enabled, but also marginalised. Waterstones choose to go it alone and on an exclusive basis, they may have sold more ebooks on Christmas day than physical books, however in their competitive haste to be the ‘exclusive’ , some would say the have merely created their own world of 'one' and in turn marginalised themselves. B&N have chosen Fictionwise and it looks a good alliance, but are they trying to buy an exclusive solution when what is need is an industry that is open, competitive and has strength in numbers.

Remember the days when B&N, and Waterstones were going to take on Amazon? They individually missed global branding and consumer awareness, still worked on yesterday’s economics of return and collectively ceded the ground. Some even gave Amazon their business before they woke up to start over again. When they returned they saw the competitor healthy, growing market share, in control and dictating terms. Will they ever catch Amazon - we believe it highly unlikely.

So what about the independent? The ABA's Booksense have failed to make it make true digital sense and it will probably drift into the arms of an aggregator and present a case of too many mouths all trying to feed at the same trough. Aggregators should not be judged on how many ebooks they have, but how they let everyone share and participate and grow the market for all.

Collaberation is still the challenge. Those who argue the independent is dead or can’t compete are wrong, but for this to be proven takes focused leadership and action from industry bodies.

Selling digital alongside physical makes sense. White label stores make sense. Retailers involvement in the internet and digital makes sense. However sitting back and expecting it to fall into the lap will not work.

Has the Brave New World report turned into an action plan or simply a good read?

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