Friday, October 12, 2007

More on e-Publishing

After my post last night defending e-publishing, I opened my copy of Shelf Awareness this morning to find a report on a panel held at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Titled "The Quest for Global Digital Sales," the panel included HarperCollins president Brian Murray, Holtzbrinck board member Dr. Ruediger Salat, Penguin CEO John Makinson and Random House CEO Peter Olson. Moderators included Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch and Andrew Wilkins, publisher of Bookseller and Publisher magazine.

I said last night that publishing mega-corporations were racing to digitize their stock. Murray indicated "HarperCollins has invested heavily in infrastructure--one measure is that it now has 12,000 titles digitally stored." He said "'the two pieces to the puzzle' for publishers are making a transition from the tradition of 'printing on paper and selling that' and creating value in the digital world."

Dr. Salat praised "Libreka . . . a site sponsored by . . . the German publishers, wholesalers and booksellers association, that offers digital versions of German books online. Libreka is still very small but aims to offer e-versions of all books in the German equivalent of Books in Print." Libreka offers a centralized place for readers to find what they're looking for, rather than having to go from one publisher's site to another.

Dr. Salat said the biggest challenge facing the industry was to "speed up ways to create a business model."

I absolutely agree with him. However, I suspect these large publishing houses are still trying to cobble together a model that will preserve the old system of royalties, offering authors an 8% to 15% share despite the much lower cost of digital publishing.

The reason I've been so interested in Radiohead's offering their album as a pay-what-you-want download is NOT because of the honor system. It's because they took the step of cutting out the musical "publisher," the record label.

Penguin's CEO, at least, was willing to admit, "The upheavals of the music industry have made publishers cautious and wary. . . Makinson said that 'if I'm awake at night, it's because of the music industry and the speed at which it changed'."

As I said last night, when the means of publishing are available to all, traditional publishing houses are going to have to offer added value to justify their existence.

"Peter Olson said that his house's sales online of books are 10% and growing at 20%-25% a year and 'we are just at the beginning of becoming more proficient at taking advantage of the Internet in marketing'."

The schizophrenic mindset of these publishers was evident in Olson's conflicting statements. On the one hand, he said "that there are 'fundamental differences between the music and publishing industries.' For one, the music industry has sold compilations for years and consumers have long wanted to listen to single songs."

Then the SAME man said, "Random is very interested in selling parts of its books, particularly nonfiction, online, for example, a recipe from a cookbook or a few chapters from a title."

Let me think about that for a moment. I'm having flashbacks to the GRE entrance exam to graduate school. Let's see: A chapter is to a book like a . . . hmmmm . . . oh, yes . . . like a single song is to an album!

I HATE business cliches, but in this case, I'm going for it. These guys need to start "thinking outside the box."

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