Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Random Thoughts for 2009

Living at the intersection of Book Publishing and Technology, I live in an interesting place. In some ways, it feels as though I live right on a giant fault line. Two tectonic plates are colliding creating a seismic disturbance the likes of which have not been seen before (at least not in my career).

With all that’s going on, I have been giving a lot of thought to what might shake out of all of the tremors. In general, I think this is going to be a great year for small and nimble companies. Here are some random thoughts:

1. People will either be very busy or looking for work. Many people are already out of work, and I don’t think that trend is over. The people that remain employed will be asked to do even more than they did before, and the people out of work are going to have challenging times finding a new place of employment. I think this is going to affect many things, including what people read, and how they get their information.

2. Given the above, I think the price of general fiction will decrease, while there may be some room for modest increases in prices for non-fiction. There is just a glut of fiction work available in the market now, and no shortage of writers (and self-publishers) adding to the supply. Fiction is generally read when people have time and want to escape. The ‘employed’ won’t have the time, and the unemployed will be looking to re-tool for other opportunities, so the demand will be lower. On the non-fiction side, with all of the information sources available on the internet, the need for authoritative, reviewed, edited works of non-fiction will be in greater demand. Publishers that can make their non-fiction products available in the ways these consumers want will see better price elasticity.

3. There will be a rise in the mini-celebrity. Technology is making it simpler to define a market space, find a leader, and build communities around those leaders. Creating author websites and marketing their expertise has never been easier. Creating electronic communities is also becoming easier and easier.

4. Smaller, independent publishers have a great opportunity, and larger, multi-imprint publishers are going to be more greatly challenged. Publishers that focus on a community, and whose brand represents a mission to serve that community will develop reputations that may rival their key authors. Their inherent ability to focus on doing a few things very well as opposed to doing many things only partially well will also help them outperform the larger houses. Unless the larger publishers really reorganize themselves as a group of small businesses with a bootstrapping attitude, I fear they are in for major destruction.

5. Independent retailers will finally embrace the internet (instead of fighting it), and use it to their advantage. Independent retailers have built in communities, and embracing electronic technology can help them keep their local clientele local. All the major retailers sell to their customers in whatever way the customer wants to buy, either in store, or online. The technology is available now and affordable even for small independents.

6. People will continue to read more and more books, magazines, and research material online, or on e-reading devices. Sometimes they will want the e-product for quick answers and then keep the printed text for future reference. The proliferation of product forms and management of the same will be a major challenge for publishers. This points to another solid year for supporting technology companies (such as content management, and yes, workflow companies), and print-on-demand companies.

7. Design of information delivery will become almost as important as the information itself. Finding what is needed as quickly and intuitively as possible as well as being pleasing to the eye will make the difference between customers choosing one data published work over another.

All-in-all, I think it’s going to be an interesting year coming up. What are your thoughts?

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