The wild card here is if some big outside player — Walmart being the most frequently mentioned — saw benefits to having the ebook business or even the whole book business in its portfolio. That’s happened in the UK, where supermarket chain Sainsbury’s bought a majority stake in Anobii a UK-publishers-backed startup, analogous to Bookish in the US and Tesco bought Mobcast because the ebook business was one that they thought fit in well with their offerings and customer base. Both Sainsbury’s and Tesco made statements about strengthening their “digital entertainment” and online retailing propositions. Tesco is investing in devices as well. Kobo has made it a pillar of their strategy to find brick-and-mortar partners all over the world.
Very good piece looking at the competing fortunes of Quercus and Waterstones. I’d add a small amount of caution here. Firstly, the Waterstones figures are for the year up to April 2013 whereas the Quercus figures are more up to date. Even so you can follow the logic through from April 2013 until today, in many ways that makes sense because the impact of the kind of policies highlighted here would be more dramatic on publishers in the key Christmas Trading period than at any other time:
Now, cash management is closely related to stock management, so it should come as no surprise that Waterstones’ stock has come down as their cash has grown. I have no knowledge of the state of Quercus’ stock management, but it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ve got too much stock, probably of extremely good titles, sitting in a warehouse, intended for those big orders that never came from the retailers with those challenging conditions.
For independent publishers to remain independent, and sadly it looks as though Quercus will not, we need a relentless focus on cash management and cash generation. Our businesses and the titles and content that make them need to be profitable, and we need to use the digital print and e-book technologies that enable us to hold the lowest stock possible. Easy to say, and probably pretty obvious, but if we don’t hold it as a top priority we can easily be caught out.
The new Waterstones-branded Café W coffee shops, which have been introduced in 17 stores, are another driver of the company’s growth. “Book sales are far stronger in the Waterstones shops that have a coffee concession,” said Mr Daunt.
But the company’s partnership with Amazon to sell its Kindle e-reader tablets and e-books, introduced in May 2012, does not a make a “significant” contribution to Waterstones’ revenues, according to Mr Daunt. “Both sides are happy with the partnership, but it doesn’t materially change the business,” he said.
Bookshops and their fate have been coming under increased scrutiny in the last few month. Whether they can be saved or not in an interesting question. My sense is that many of the chains will no longer be sustainable within the next three to five years in countries with high digital penetration. Local, second-hand and value booksellers though, and supermarkets selling limited lists will probably do okay, especially if the chains close their more marginal stores more rapidly than currently anticipated, and even in some cases if they follow existing planned closures:
This is a sad and quixotic result for a bookselling industry that was to a large degree birthed from a generation of 1960s entrepreneurs at Bookstop, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and other book chains, all of whom were technical innovators in their day, as David Wilk of Booktrix observed to me recently. In the 1970s, and then especially in the 1980s, this group of founders created the first automated efforts to describe supply chains, stock and inventory management, and analysis of consumer preferences using then state-of-the-art programming on mainframe and mini-computers. The extent to which one bookselling group gained more efficiency than another was in part due to the ability of each firm to capitalize on innovation in IT automation.
Seems a bit negative on the whole, but it’s a useful thought experiment:
Other impacts are inevitable, but harder to perceive in clear definition. Successful self-published authors like Howey, who did well by ultimately selling print rights to a Big 5 publisher while retaining digital rights, are less likely to see any benefit in prestige or marketing when there is diminished gain from a rapidly diminishing retail presence. The appeal for authors to sell rights only for finite term duration, another Howey recommendation, are likely to increase. And ultimately, that means that Big Trade publishers are going to have fewer titles to work with; my agent lunch-partner describes the difference as going from 800 big titles a year to 200 – regardless of the actual numbers, it’s the level of impact that’s important.
Interesting piece throughout. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the way it illuminates just how much easier digital makes publishing, for everyone. Interesting too that the bookstore is seeing opportunities upstream from book-selling, driving its own revenues, something there has been too little discussion of in recent years among bookstores. If Amazon is doing a good ob of gathering exclusive ebook content through KDP, there’s many reasons to believe that bookstores are even better positioned to capture this kind of exclusivity at a local level, to act as publishers for that material and to profit from it too:
The Imai Shoten bookstore chain, based in the western prefecture of Shimane, published the electronic edition of “Shutei Kunchu Meigetsuki” (Revised Version of Annotated Meigetsuki) in October. Meigetsuki is the diary of famed “waka” poet Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241).
The bookstore chain released the first edition of the annotated diary in the form of a printed book in eight volumes in 2002, selling 200 copies and winning high praise. The company had also been working to publish a revised edition of the title, but could not do so because estimated benefits were not worth the required costs.
“It would be impossible to release the revised work without digitizing it,” says Yasuhiko Tago, chairman of the bookstore firm. “I believe that we will be able to turn the introduction of e-books into a great opportunity for the publishing world.”
Interesting to see the long term trend impact of online sales on bookstores:
According to a study by Experian for The Telegraph newspaper, there are 1,878 bookshops left on the high street today, including independents and Waterstones stores, whereas in 2005 there were 4,000. Separate research by analysts at Mintel suggests UK consumers spent £261 million on e-books in 2012, nearly twice the £138 million spent in 2011, while physical book sales fell from £3.3 billion last year to £3.1 billion this year.