Mike Shatzkin looks at the current realities of ebooks and print books and what is happening. I think we are only a few months shy of encountering the kind of events I describe here, at least in the US:
In fact, the current improvement in the profit picture suggests that the big houses have done a remarkably good job of managing the transition from print to digital so far. What is implied by the reported numbers, but receiving little attention, is that print sales are down pretty dramatically. Print runs are down with one trade house telling me that their midlist non-fiction first printings having typically declined by 40%. A larger house suggested that the print being shipped from their warehouse is down 35% in less than two years. I’m not close to the numbers but that might mean that for segments of their list shipments are half what they were less than two years ago.
Smaller press runs mean higher unit costs for printing and binding but they also mean fewer units are sharing the cost of design and page make-up. Many of the fixed overheads in publishing houses: warehouses, production departments, catalog creation, and lots of IT, are really only necessary to support the print component of the business. For the past two decades, commercial success in book publishing and, as the demise of Borders has made clear, in book retailing depended on an efficient supply chain. Being in stock but not overstocked, shipping quickly, being able to get fast turnaround on reprints, processing returns promptly to facilitate collecting accounts receivable, and providing accurate data to accounts as well as to internal stakeholders all require investment but generate value that shows up in