Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brave New World Revisited Part 1: Are we all Participating

There have been some interesting debates in the blogshere and over emails about what appears to be the threat of the new entrants and the overall balance of the publishing marketplace. These are not new and were well documented in our Brave New World report close to 3 years ago. What is now new is that the reality is starting to happen, changes are starting to be seen and the industry is now starting to wake up and smell the coffee.

So what are we talking about? Today we look briefly at the independents’ digital opportunities

First, there is contrary to many beliefs a real place for the independent bookseller in the digital marketplace but they need to want to participate and be allowed to participate. There are no free lunches and natural extensions of the physical world. Equally those who believe that the independents can’t participate or wish to steal their market better wake up and think about how they bridge the revenue gap – if you take out your existing channel you take out your existing revenues. You may not like who you have to do business with tomorrow.

Second, unless the digital divide between those who can and those who aren’t allowed is closed then the digital divide could come home to bite all. Publishing has long been said by some to be like spread betting you place many bets and hope that the overall receipts will outweigh the bets placed. When you narrow the market then spread bets become harder and mistakes a lot more painful. By retaining and supporting the existing channel we can ensure options are not closed down. The digital age gives us the ability to create a level playing field but all too often we choose the technology to narrow and close down the field.

Third, Digital is good and can live alongside physical. They are only mutually exclusive if we want them to be. Yes, digital may reduce the effectiveness of a general offer but it can also reduce the effectiveness of a vertical one. Those who advocate either or, do not respect that the world is not binary today, nor tomorrow. Digital offers booksellers and librarians the real opportunity to engage, add value and develop their communities but if all is achieved is a ‘white label’ web site they have failed miserably. That doesn’t preclude them from selling white label stock, that’s a given, but giving away their customers or treating them as mere distant buyers is not a wise course to pursue.

Fourth, price matters. Of course consumers will always be drawn to price but this tends to be for know items not browsing. So the key is to capture the browser, the impulse buy and keep hold of him and use the bookselling skills to sell to him irrespective of price but built on trusted relationship.

The Brave New World report has so far failed to deliver its promise. Some may say it couldn’t work and the cards were stacked against it, others will point to the infamous BA conference walk-out and the bad positioning of some of the follow-up process, others to the power of the new entrants, some would suggest the folly of exclusive and marginalised deals etc. We believe that only today with the imminent roll out of inclusive and not exclusive services such as Gardners Digital Warehouse in the UK, do we see a opportunity for all to participate. However, even as we write some may suggest that there are rules set for some that are not being allowed for others.

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