Monday, November 19, 2007

The News from Barnsley

Today’s news will be disheartening to many booksellers and yet is a step forward to understanding tomorrow’s world. There are three items we refer to; Victoria Barnsley’s interview with the Independent, The report on Informa in The Times and the predicted announcement today of Amazon’s Kindle reader.

What these collectively tell us is that digitisation is here today and we should stop thinking inside the spine. The focus is still on the channel to market and using digital conent to promote physical books. It will change but slowly. In terms of ebooks we have yet another ‘pretender’ to the tipping point crown but a pretender the Kindle will be.

Our hat goes off to Victoria Barnsley as she clearly covered so much ground in such a small article. Unfortunately the issue that she and the article will be remembered for is that to do with direct market.

‘... one of the most exciting aspects of the brave new world of digital publishing is that it has allowed her company to become a "direct consumer business"...
In the past, publishers had to rely on persuading a bookseller to stock their product, in the hope the right reader would stumble across it. Now, internet search engines mean that people can immediately identify books on subjects that interest them...We've got to embrace the fact that we're becoming a direct consumer business. We have a website and we can have a direct dialogue with our readers. We can capture your name and ultimately sell you something. That's a complete change..’

The Brave New World report stated that direct marketing will work for some and will impact traditional channel, but that it will fail to offer rich choice and only convenience. Even the HarperCllins brand isn’t there today and even though money can buy most things in marketing, we remember the ‘fire and water’ brand campaign. If however the publishers were to form a co-operative … but the track record in cooperation and branding does not support such a thinking.

What we must remember is that the existing channel will still generate the majority of revenues and cannibalising it for a few dollars more, may seem attractive, but may long term end up to the detriment of all. The music business may be significantly different, but when they woke up they found that the high street channel and all but gone. The point is to stick to what you are good at and let others do what they are good at. This is the true discipline of market leaders.

Which brings us to Informa, who through some shrewd acquisitions and publishing programmes, have risen to be a major publishing force today. We often hear about publishers who have a couple of thousand digital titles and estimates of a couple of thousand by next year. These are small steps compared to Inform’s academic Taylor and Francis division, who have some 18,000 titles fully digitised and available not just as PDFs but in all ebook flavours today. Importantly they are now seeing significant growth and spin offs through this wise investment. We agree with the Times that they are certainly worth an investment. Interestingly although their market is better suited to direct B2C trade they make the money in the B2B channel.
Finally will Bezos announce the Kindle or not? Frankly it will raise the noise levels and consumer awareness, but we don’t see it introducing the iPod or iPhone factor.

As we wrote in our report, booksellers need to embrace and not fear the digital world and the channel should be made available to all to fully participate.