The future of print and eBook publishing following Borders’ demise
“Publishing houses are not in the printed book business. Nor are they in the eBooks business. They’re in the content business.”
As a newbie to publishing, I find it to be a very exciting time to be in the industry. Working in Penguin’s Business Development Department, I am lucky enough to be on a team that is forging ahead into the new era of digital publishing. This “revolution,” as some have called it, has also brought naysayers who say (and who seemingly have always said) that publishing will not survive.
In 2011 many have pointed to the demise of Borders and the possible sale of Barnes & Noble as a harbinger for publishing houses. Many feel that eBooks have the potential to destroy the very industry they rely on to be sold. A heartfelt op-ed appeared in the Chicago Tribune by a Powell’s book store employee saying that if the publishing industry did not fight back against eBooks and eReaders by launching an ad campaign similar to the way Amazon did for Kindle, it, too, would go the way of Borders.
But the author of that piece, and anyone else who believes that the decline of the print book will mark the end of the publishing business, is missing the point. While Borders’s liquidation will reduce shelf space and will continue to hurt physical book sales, new sales from eBooks will most likely even the keel in a few years. Publishing houses are not in the printed book business. Nor are they in the eBooks business. They’re in the content business.
When you buy a book, the primary driver behind your purchase is not what kind of paper it is printed on or the extension of the file name. You buy a book for the story. Whether you read a physical book that you bought from a bookstore or an electronic file delivered wirelessly to your ereader, the end result is the same: you are reading a book. Most likely, that book was written by an author who got picked up by an agent who shopped the book around to publishers, one of whom bought it, edited it, marketed it, produced it and sold it to a variety of book retailers.
Whether you purchased the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore the publisher received money from your purchase. Despite publishing’s constant death knell, the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. In 2010, book publishing revenue rose 3.1% buoyed “almost entirely” by digital products. As eBook prices continue to stabilize, publishers should be able to leverage the rise of eBooks and digital products in their favor.
This is not to say that eBooks will take over print books forever and leave brick and mortar stores obsolete. As much as the eBook “revolution” hurt Borders, the bookseller was also a corporation rife with mismanagementthat expanded much too quickly while embracing eBooks much too late. Borders is not emblematic of the publishing industry. In fact, Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association said, “It is, in part, an unfortunate right-sizing of bookstore landscape that has suffered from expansion in certain markets.”
It is commonly said that content is king, and when it comes to publishing this could not be more true. As technology advances and new ways to consume books emerge, publishing houses will still be there if they continue to help authors create great books. So as market turmoil puts book retailers in jeopardy, publishers do not need to launch ad campaigns to try to push one consumer medium over another. Especially in the wake of the proliferation of content on the internet, publishing houses need to continue to practice what got them to where they are today: identifying talent, allowing authors to produce great content, and connecting writers to readers.
Featured photo courtesy of the Associated Press.
Author photo courtesy of Matt Kane.