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.
via Mainframe Bookselling and Internet Commerce | PWxyz.
Fascinating stuff this
Japan’s largest library will begin offering online access to selected books on Feb. 1, starting with 13 works that include some of the country’s most famous epics and folk tales and a novel written by one of its most acclaimed novelists.
The National Diet Library is trying out its new online delivery system, which was requested by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, with help from bookstore operator Kinokuniya Co. and the Dai Nippon Printing Co. group.
via National library joins digital wave, will offer books online – AJW by The Asahi Shimbun.
5. As the way people consume media changes, book publishers are realizing they are content creation and rights management companies and not just book publishers. Many of them are now playing in the app market, educational technology market and other areas they likely wouldn’t have dreamed of a decade ago. To that end, book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently capitalized by going public in November. The company is seen as more of an educational company and less as a book publisher by Wall Street. In fact, one-time trade publisher Wiley has almost completely transformed itself into an education and technology company partially through a series of divestments and acquisitions.
via Get Ready For More Mergers And Acquisitions In Book Publishing – Forbes.
Fascinating piece by Ed Nowatka of Publishing Perspectives rom the NYTimes.com about the new digital library in Texas. I’m struck by the way that digital can, if we allow it to, reinvigorate libraries as well as make them so much cheaper to run and stock:
“We have maintained from the beginning that we are a digital library, not a bookless library,” said Ms. Eklof, who, like the rest of the staff, wore a sporty BiblioTech-branded polo shirt. Books or no books, she said, the goal is the same: to give residents access to information and research assistance.
It is also economical. At a cost of $2.2 million to build, stock and staff, BiblioTech is a bargain compared with the downtown library being built in nearby Austin, which has a budget of more than $100 million. BiblioTech’s yearly operating costs are budgeted at $1.1 million. “Getting it going cost us a third less than the $3.7 million Bexar County contributes annually to the San Antonio public library system, which has 26 libraries,” Ms. Cole said.
via It’s Here: A Library With Nary a Book – NYTimes.com.
Baldur Bjarnason (@fakebaldur) is in the middle of a writing spurt, which is good news for anyone who is interested in thinking about books, digital, readers and publishing. He’s a good thinker on these things and while I don’t always agree with him, I do enjoy reading his material and the thinking it generates. I also wish that I had the discipline to write a series of posts, there’s a lot on my mine.
Anyway, several of the posts have really interested me greatly, but I like very much this section and have quoted him wholesale:
“The publishing industry has bought into this idea wholesale. Some publishing markets are, according to this worldview, further ahead on the progress timeline than others. It also implies that advancement along the timeline is inevitable, even if it progresses at varying speeds. Romance and other genre fiction tend to dominate ebook sales and so must have more ‘future’. Non-fiction less so and must therefore have less ‘future’ and more of that crippling ballast called ‘past’. Big mainstream titles hit the ebook market in seemingly unpredictable ways. Some garner decent ebook sales while others seem to sell only in print. There, the ‘future’ seems to be randomly distributed, like a stress nosebleed over a term paper.
This, obviously, implies that the ebook will either eventually dominate universally or at least capture the same large percentage uniformly across the market.
I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The various publishing markets differ in fundamental ways that won’t be changed by ebooks. As others have said, ‘ebooks are terrific and haven’t changed a thing’.
Some will switch entirely to ebooks. Some partially. Some almost not at all.”
via The unevenly distributed ebook future | Studio Tendra.
A fine piece by Mike, as ever, with a critical section at the end about the direction of online books sales which I think is often overlooked:
But is this all really part of a larger problem for publishers? Is online discovery really affecting the sales patterns for books? It would appear so. One of the global ebook sellers told me during Frankfurt that their online sales are far more concentrated than publishers’ sales tended to be, with a tiny fraction of titles under 5% making up a huge percentage of total sales nearly 70%. I am assuming here that this retailer’s data is typical; of course, it may not be. If memory serves, at the turn of the century Barnes & Noble stores saw only about 5% of their sales coming from “bestsellers” and, I believe relying on memory of detail, which I admit is not my most powerful mental muscle backlist outsold new titles. Publishers really live on the midlist. We know the long tail is taking an increasing share of sales and it would appear the head is too. Those sales come out of the midlist. It is pretty hard to run a profitable publisher without a profitable midlist.
And that would suggest that the increasing concentration of sales, which is likely the result of our hobbled ability to present choices in the digital sales environment, is a problem that publishers will want to address.
via Finding your next book, or, the discovery problem – The Shatzkin Files.
A good piece from David this:
It was no place to pursue the argument, and if time had been available I might have learnt all sorts of clever things that Penguin Random House have up their sleeves to stave off change and preserve the status quo. The novel form as a narrative seems to me to begin with Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding in the mid-eighteenth century . Much of the last century, from James Joyce and Virginia Woolf onwards was occupied in trying to blow up the form Things that have a beginning often also have an end . Did Sophocles remark to Euripides, “Well, old boy, one thing is certain. We shall always have a job because plebs will always want three act tragedy!”
For this Never thing to work for fiction publishers the demographics have to be right , and I see no evidence that the form, if we discount the odd phenomena of Fifty Shades (perhaps itself a pointer to a future?), is growing or diminishing in audience. If I was working in fiction publishing, then I would want a small unit dedicated to second guessing the future – be it multiple media, narrative choice for the reader, the future of smartphone as a narrative platform or any of the other emerging network options for telling stories to each other.
via David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future..
Does seem strange to me that anyone would adopt this way of thinking. Maybe it’s the public front to a very different private thinking. I certainly hope so!