Friday, October 20, 2006

Data Data Data

As the world becomes more and more technologically savvy, it seems that the expectations are that making all these systems talk to each other is easy.

It's not!

Technologists are good a building tools that can move information from one place to another, and that part is - relatively - easy. The hard part is knowing what the 'data' is.

In yesterday's BISAC Metadata meeting, our group wrestled with the topic of On Sale Date vs. Strict On Sale Date for over an hour, and at the end of that conversation, I'm still not sure there was consensus. One little tiny piece of information with such big consequences for managing the rollout of a new title in the marketplace.

It occurs to me that behind the scenes in every industry, stalwarts work diligently to try and really define how their businesses work and how to maximize the efficiency of the supply chain. These are the unsung heroes that make it look easy. In our beloved industry, there are probably fewer than 50 people in the US, and probably fewer than 200 across the planet that fight the good fight every day, both among themselves and with their own constituents. Although, almost all they ever hear about are issues like, 'how come the author's name is spelled wrong on Amazon? The author is throwing a fit. '

Occasionally these issues become large enough to garner attention in the higher echelons of publishing, but for the most part, the efforts of this group are taken for granted.

During yesterdays meeting, I found myself wondering about personality traits of the participants. Some are understated, some are overstated, some are more technically oriented than others, but almost all passionately care about the book business in total, not just this 'minor' role we find ourselves in.

It's little wonder that return of our fearless committee chairman, Richard Stark, after months of recuperation from an auto accident, was met with a champagne toast. At least by those in the room, there is no question about how important his role is in our beloved industry.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What will the Book Publisher of the Future Look Like?

I have thought for many years that publishers were going to become more and more virtual. After all, why do all these publishers, that are essentially performing the same processes to bring their product to market spend all that money to do the same thing?

The consolidation in the Distribution marketplace is one big step in that direction. Now, I don't think its a futuristic question to ask, why does a publisher even need a back office? It seems that more and more publishers are signing on to the fact that they don't. They can simply hire one. And, in most cases its truly cheaper for them to do so.

So, what will publishers relinquish next? My guess is their production departments. Savvy distributors are already offering production services. And some courageous publishers are starting to use them.

The topic of production departments is a whole can of worms that I could write about for a long time... Maybe another time.

So, as publishers relinquish more and more of the daily activities, and as technology takes a bigger and bigger role in the process of consumers reading, the real question is - what is a publisher?

I guess in my mind, the only true core competencies that a publisher NEEDS are what we now call Editorial skills, and Market knowledge. A publisher needs to be able to bring fresh new products to a market that is willing to receive them. period. That takes finding and managing creative talent and understanding the market well enough to know how best to exploit those creative talents in the marketplace.

Once its clear what a publisher wants to bring to market and is willing to invest in the plan to make it happen, then all the other processes can be handled by business partners.

So, back to the first question. What will a publisher look like? I think the publisher of the future will have a very small staff of editors, (if there are multiple editors, then a managing editor is necessary) marketing minds, and business managers. The business managers will be the unsung heroes here, for it is they that will have to manage all the partnerships with service providers. They will also be the ones that make the numbers happen.

So, what of all the other services? Our friends the distributors will grow by offering more and more of these services. And, because they offer so many services that the publisher will need, why should they perform them only for a percentage of net sales?

I think the 'distribution things' will grow by having equity stakes in their Publishing partners.

That kind of leads us to the conclusion that the big publishing 'things' out there will really be what we now think of as the distribution companies. And as they grow, their power in the marketplace will grow as well. And, after a while, it may be the publishers that are being sought or jetisoned depending on how well they perform at the task of bringing creative talent to market.

Haven't we been around this horn once before?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Consolidation of the Order Processing Market

Yesterday's announcement about Klopotek purchasing Global Turnkey systems is, I think, the first of many consolidations that I expect will hit the publishing software business in the near future.

Rumors persist around Oracle picking up Vista, and the strategic alliance between Les King's IPub system and the venerable Cat's Pajamas.

It seems that this trend was inevitable given the consolidation of distribution services in the publishing industry. Most publishers are now in the distribution business or are being distributed by someone else. There doesn't seem to be much room for anything in between.

This trend, of course is driven by the demands of the wholesale and retail community who find it more necessary than ever to use technology to help them keep their shelves full of the ever changing needs of its customers.

It's quite a chain of events.

About 20 years ago, a wise man named Sandy MacGregor told me that in the future, he expected that there would be only 4 big publishing 'things' out there. He didn't know what the 'things' would look like. The more I watch the changes in our industry, the more I believe this prophesy to be true.