Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Publishing in 2010: Part 3

Yesterday we look at some of the changes that are impacting publishing and posted our thoughts: Publishing in 2010: Part 2

Today we look at the two issues of, ‘Publication Date’ and ‘Digital Marketing’

3. Publication Date

Can consumers actually spot the difference between margarine and butter? Can they spot the difference between front list ‘new’ titles and older ones? Do the majority care about the publication date? Is new better than old? Do books have a ‘sell by date’?

The answer from the majority of consumers and readers is that the publication date is irrelevant, but the answer from the majority of publishers and resellers is that it is. This divide could once be managed by the control of the channel and the ‘sale or return’ practices that support front list promotion. However, the Internet and digital world throws this in the air and now millions of titles are available at a click. These can be digital titles, physical, print on demand, ebooks, whatever.

We once questioned the increasing volume of new titles published each year. The reality is that it will probably double within the next few years. It will not be just new works but include; old ones being revived by print on demand, digital works, a mass of public domain that were never previously ISBNed and an explosion of self published material. Let’s face it the virtual shelf is here.

Let’s also be honest, unless you are an ardent follower of an author, no one really cares about that date. The acid test is to go to any bookstore and watch the consumers when confronted with a range of Grisham, Connelly, King, whoever, I guarantee few turn to that front matter to read the publication date. If you are ever in New York go to my favourite bookstore, The Strand. Fred Bass sells used, new, remaindered, classics, rare and even reviewer copies, his offer reflects most peoples reading habits - eclectic.

We have seen Faber introduce its classics and many others such as Penguin, trawl the public domains, orphan works and their back lists in order to rediscover gems and yesterday’s winners. Good books are good books and the publication date means just that - the date of publication.

My father in law most famous work was turned into a film, which even on its second TV showing drew a 13 million audience. It won an EMMY, a BAFTA, a Peabody and was voted one of the all time Women’s Hour favourite books. It now sits out of print ‘reprint under consideration’. The logic being that it’s had it day, but some would suggest that it’s the publisher in that case that has had its day.

Why is this important today? The answer is simple, many publishers can now bring back previous works, dust down the jacket and take a low risk and cost option. Publishers will increasingly need to look backwards, sideward as well as forwards to find their revenue. Similarly resellers can break free of the merchandised shelves and offer a more eclectic proposition based on quality of selection not sale or return. Some will say that Google, Amazon and others see books they don’t always just see new books which now challenges many right across the publishing value chain.

4. Digital Marketing

Yesterday the AI sheet was thrown out like confetti at a wedding. Each publisher often had their own house style and the fax machines were often jammed with what some would call spam. Bibliographic records were so inaccurate that they spawned the ‘book in hand’ processes in all major wholesalers. Then Amazon promoted the jacket JPEG, which was followed by email distribution and a step change was incurred.

We were once told by a leading trade publisher that the majority of their marketing spend was to resellers and much was spent on those glossy adverts in the trade press. Some referred to it being akin to self abuse and playing to the gallery, but if the book wasn’t on the shelf it couldn’t be sold. The objective was to secure shelf space.

However, this has clearly started to change. The shelf is no longer just physical and the consumer can search and discover for themselves and choose where they buy separately. The challenge now is to be seen everywhere. Some may say that the digital haystack has just got bigger and being found as that ‘needle’ even harder.

We first had the digital ‘widget’, which came in all flavours sizes and rendered differently. Often the pages were not perfect and rigid rules applied, which often resulted in black pages being displayed as sample pages! We appeared to have lost our way and instead of focusing on the channel, publishers became overly obsessed with selling direct and to new yet to be established channels. The secondary publishers who provided the base metadata (bibliographic feeds) were floundering and often unable to respond and resellers found themselves once again with confetti...

The book is and always will be the best advert for itself so using it in a digital form to sell both physical and digital renditions makes sense. Google recognised this, Amazon recognised this, but all too often the publishers didn’t have it and when they did, it was only after the book had hit the streets. Again Amazon recognised this, but unfortunately the digital file had to wait for the printer and yesterday’s process to catch up.

When we talk about marketing, promotional and sales support materials we should be looking at the same source and the best basic source is not a marketing system, but the content system itself. This challenges and changes the process in which we develop content and is part of a greater debate. However, we need to think samples, viral marketing, review copies, inspection copies, gratis copies, catalogues, AI sheets and even the physical materials and recognise these should be driven from the same source, which is held digitally once and rendered many times and ways. It also needs to recognise marketing happened before, during and after production. If done correctly every click and also unturned page will be auditable.

Finally, digital marketing budgets have often been spread across publishing departments and not always tracked at title level. This certainly can change in this new digital world.

We will continue with Part 4 looking at Editorial and Production.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

About publication date: as a reader, I'd say it depends on what book you're talking about. I'm an academic type, so if I'm reading non-fiction I'm always very curious about when a book was written. That doesn't mean I won't read an old book (on the contrary), but it means I care. If I'm reading a novel, I care less. Your point about old stuff having "had its day" is just sad.