Can the publishing industry do a better job of managing change than the music industry did?
Publishers are getting lower prices for their products, at the same time that readers are migrating to new platforms– all the while distributors, retailers and brands are becoming competitors
The news that Amazon had launched a new eBook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, seemed like the perfect piece of information to pass on to an acquaintance – a verocious (that’s almost a real word) reader of what she describes as mostly trash novels.
“I haven’t bought a book in months,” she told me this morning. “Don’t have the time.”
It doesn’t help that this person is really into Game of Thrones – those thick volumes take up a lot of time. But her addiction did lead to her reading the one digital magazine issue she has ever opened: the April issue of Vanity Fair (which featured Game of Thrones on the cover, of course).
It’s tough to live in a household made up of publishing veterans where the only one actually consuming digital publishing products is the one that writes about them (now you pretty much know who I talked to). But I don’t think that is very unusual.
We are in the middle of a revolution in the publishing industry that will prove to be no less disruptive to the industry than what occurred in music over the past two decades.
It was a common wisdom that every time a new platform arose sales would increase as consumers not only supported the older platforms but also converted their media to the new one. The model worked fine for a while as consumers moved from vinyl to tape to CDs. But as you can see with the chart at left, since 2000 the model has broken down.
The publishing industry presents are far more complicated picture, however. One can look at book publishing and possibly see that it shares much in common with the music industry: the move to digital, from single product sales to streaming, consolidation in retail distribution, new competitors, etc. But with magazines and newspapers there is the added complications that arise when considering the role of advertising.
What we are seeing is many changes occurring at the same time. Reader habits are changing as many readers consider the web and social media formats that challenge for their reading time. At the same time there are platform changes brought only mobile devices and tablets. On top of all this, distribution and retail channels are evolving quickly as book chains fail, digital newsstands and bookstores become publishing competitors, and brands that once depended on publishers become publishers themselves.
(It is important to keep in mind, that while low priced, unlimited services such as Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, Next Issue and others only attract binge readers, those binge readers accounted for a disproportionate amount of the publishing industry’s profits.)
This remains why experimentation, flexibility and education is vital. Publishers who are not relearning their trade will find themselves on the outside. It is important to become fluent in the new digital platforms, even if not themselves launching new digital products. It is important to understand what is happening with distribution and retail changes. Finally, we need more and more good research into reader’s changing habits and preferences.