Monday, June 02, 2008

Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Sometimes, it's a blinding flash of the obvious that makes your head spin with new insights.

Manga is arguably the fastest growing genre in publishing today. These companies are hot. Traditional publishers often druel openly as they watch the manga titles fly off the shelves, while theirs just sit (or worse, are returned). The conventional publishing wisdom says that manga's success is due to manga publishers creating the types of books that kids want to read, and that kids today have shorter attention spans and want more illustrated works.

OK, that makes a certain amount of sense when you look through the lens of a book publisher.

But, yesterday, near the end of a very quiet day at BEA, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jeremy Ross, the director of new product development at TokyoPop. And, as casually as you might ask about the weather, he threw out a nugget that took a moment to register in my brain. He said, "we are not a publisher, we are media company, who happens to sell books".

Later, when I was out to dinner with Doug , the implications of that simple line for our business and for publishing in general began to flood over me like a wave.

The publishers who have been successfully transforming themselves in the face of the new digital day, have gotten this concept to some extent, but I believe Jeremy's simple statement goes even further. At the PMA Graduate School on Thursday both Andrew Savikas, and Mike Shatzkin spoke to the publishers about building communities around their niche markets, and supporting their books by serving the reader with all they need, which might include the book, but might include other ancillary materials as well. All really good points, and as more publishers take those concepts to heart, they will transition into a new style of company.

However, in their hearts they will still be book publishers who happen to build communities, and not media companies who happen to publish books. It may sound like a fine line, but I believe it is one of the keys to why manga in general, and TokyoPop in particular have been so successful. They are not limited by the traditional publishing lens. Hence, they are not 'transitioning', they are just 'being' different.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

How long will the BEA survive?

The almost complete absence of non-exhibiting attendees to the Book Expo on Sunday afternoon should be a real wake-up call to the Reed Exhibitions people. The show's use as a way for publishers and authors to interact directly with customers has been waning for several years, but this year seem incredibly weak.

That rasping sound of packing tape, that is not supposed to be heard in the hall until the official close at 4pm, could heard throughout the hall by 11:30am. What's going on?

Most publishers I spoke with, anticipated a 'light' show, and sent fewer people. Many expected this simply because it was in Los Angeles. But I think the 'lightness' was even 'lighter' than many expected. The publishers I was speaking with were openly questioning why they come at all, and all vowed to send even fewer people and take less space next year.

But we've been hearing those sounds for years. Maybe next year, back in New York, the attendance will be different. But will it be buyers and librarians, or simply more publishing people? If the 2009 show in NYC does not have a dramatic rebound from this year, then I think the 2011 show in Las Vegas will be doomed.

I personally love the BEA. I get to see all my clients in one place, rekindle many old connections, and make some new ones. While grueling, it is also generally a very gratifying experience. But my role there is different than most. My customers are the exhibitors, not the attendees. If they stop showing, so will I.