Friday, February 26, 2010

Wake Up, Publishing!

I love serendipity . . . You know the feeling: when the planets and stars fall into alignment, and the universe hands you a get-out-of-jail-free card.

That's the way I felt last night when I got home and sat down at my laptop to blog. Looking for inspiration, I opened Publishers Marketplace (PM) and watched the 20-minute keynote address given by Skip Prichard to the TOC Conference that PM posted yesterday. The video is an exclusive offered by Publishers Marketplace, which co-sponsored the conference.

Prichard is the CEO of the Ingram Content Group. His keynote address picked up right where my post ended last night, talking about the consumers of the future.

Prichard identified three major technology trends which are affecting the publishing industry:

  • The growth of online retail. In 2008, online retail represented 5% of all retail sales. By 2013, it is expected to represent 8% of all retail sales.
  • The speed of innovation is transforming the media industry and will impact the publishing business as well.
  • Generational shifts in consumption of media are changing and will continue to change how publishing reaches and retains readers. Prichard believes that--unlike previous generations who tended to look at print and digital as either/or--today's generations blur the lines between the two. Young people between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day on an electronic device.

You'll recall that in my post yesterday, I talked about the new Pew Research report titled "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next." The subtitle of the report describes this generation as "Confident. Connected. Open to Change."

I pointed out the irony: that description is almost exactly the opposite of Big Publishing today: Terrified. Proprietary. Resistant to Change.

Continuing the troika theme, Prichard had his own trinity of suggestions for the publishing industry:

  • Simplify -- He advised publishing houses to figure out what their "unique strategic value" is and to focus on it "relentlessly." In other words, figure out what makes a publishing house special and different. Find a niche and exploit it. "The days of doing everything are over."
  • Connect -- "It's critical to pay attention to the connections at every level of the business . . . You must know your customers inside and out. Where they hang out. How do you reach them? What do they respond to?"
  • Conquer -- Prichard urges his audience to leave their comfort zones and "test the boundaries."

He quoted David Carr's Media Equation column of January 3, 2010 in the New York Times:

Five years ago, almost no one paid for music online and now, nine billion or so songs sold later, we know that people are willing to pay if the price is right and the convenience is there.
I believe the critical issue for publishing right now is to recognize that trying to set an artificial price for ebooks based on a desire to protect the print book business is an enormous mistake. Consumers are not stupid. They are not going to pay the price of a trade paperback for a rights-protected ebook that they can neither copy to their other devices nor share with friends. Carr said the decision to pay is based on the right price and convenience. WAKE UP, PUBLISHING!

Of course, the cynic in me sometimes believes that the whole point of this ridiculous ebook pricing mess is to prevent the electronic book business from growing. That's suicidal thinking. Prichard explains why:

In just a few years from now, the ebooks of today ... will be old news. And, in their place will be enhanced media versions that make stories come alive. Innovation will not stop and end with devices; innovation will transform content.

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