Comment | Booksellers and Publishers: What are the options?
Zoe Faulder works with Blackhall Publishing and writes an excellent blog here. Reading this yesterday I was struck by its refreshing tone and opnness to new ways of doing business, so I asked her if we could present it here.
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Yesterday it was announced that Waterstones’ two Dublin stores would be closing. On top of that, in the US Borders is on the brink of bankruptcy. Yes, we’re going through an economically difficult time but that fact compounded with the rise of online retailers such as Amazon, bestsellers being available at large discounts in supermarkets and the ever increasing availability of online content turns the pinch into a punch.
Both booksellers and publishers are finding it difficult to cope in this environment. Old business models just aren’t cutting it any more; the survivors will be the innovators – those with creative new ideas and business plans to address the rapidly changing expectations of the consumer.
We’re already seeing quite a hefty shift in the book industry towards digital in the US and the UK. This has opened up a whole new way for industry in those markets to grow. In Ireland the same shift is quite a bit slower and though expansion into the digital area is certainly essential I don’t foresee strong revenues being generated from it for a few years yet.* That being said the Irish book industry (which is rather small in comparison to it’s US and UK counterparts) is still being hit by the same punches as the US and UK – so what can be done?
Again, the innovators will be the survivors – creative solutions beyond eBooks are needed, in all book markets. These solutions will come from a complete re-jigging of the way business is done. Yes, this will require some investment and quite a hefty helping of risk – two things that are daunting but expected – but the real difficulty will be in letting go of old assumptions and stepping into the new paradigm.
I notice at this point I haven’t actually offered any solutions, I’ve just thrown out a load of ‘buzz words’ that sound good but aren’t practically helpful. To be honest I don’t have any strategic solutions, just general ideas (and not exactly innovative ones at that but lets get the ball rolling).
1. Niche it up
By creating a strong brand for yourself in a very select and loyal market you can completely corner it. Naturally you’d have to be careful to select a market that will actually pay for what you’re offering. I’ve seen some small independent publishers do this already and they seem to be holding steady – doing well even. The downside to this model is the lack of room for growth – by selecting a specific market you are limiting yourself to it.
2. Expand services
Supermarkets are a good example of this; over the years they have been expanding their range of services – Tesco for example – in doing so they have successfully reached quite a few new markets. Many publishers are already doing this with eBooks and some have done this in the past by offering distribution services but there are still many other possible ways to expand beyond. However, this option is problematic for the independents, who are already stretched as it is, but it shouldn’t be ruled out. A niche independent publisher could develop an online community in their area. Using that as a platform they could run events or conferences – or they could license/sell content. With a strong community behind you the options are limitless.
3. Mutual support
The independents are possibly among the hardest hit; with limited resources very little capital can be put towards development and innovation as it is all being put into the basic running and survival of the business. One way to tackle this is by joining forces with other independents and spreading the resources. In a small market like Ireland it will also bring down the number of individual players working against each other. This idea seems to have been bandied about over the years but very few seem willing to take the plunge. With this option the independence of the business is diminished, which can be quite an unattractive side effect.
Do you have any bright ideas to put to a wavering industry?