It was with great interest then that I read the coverage of the Book Industry Study Group's (BISG) Making Information Pay seminar last week, in Shelf Awareness. There are a lot of numbers and statistics and hell, we're word not number people! So I'm more drawn to the assessment provided by Leigh Watson Healy, chief analyst of Outsell, Inc. From Shelf Awareness:
In the longer term, "the world will be more global for the knowledge economy but is becoming more national and local for physical goods." She suggested that in these times, companies with "market share" and those that are "brand leaders" are doing well. "They have big names that carry weight with consumers and in distribution." The other types that are doing well are "the innovators and niche players with something unique to offer."
The publishing world's strengths, then, are bifurcated. On this side we have the corporate giants who run after the market, whose catalogs are an incredible hodge-podge of sellable books. On one page is the new James Patterson, on the next a new trendy cookbook, and then a hipster debut novelist, and then a celebrity memoir, and then... espionage (fiction or non-fiction). The only thing holding the list together is the sales rep's excitement as she or he thumbs through it before making a bookseller call.
But then we have the independent that knows its readers, the "innovators and niche players with something unique to offer." And in trying to be reasonable and play nice, I'll just throw my lot in with the latter without trash talking the former. The point is, both have an audience and neither can be overlooked, as they are going to move forward, god willing, through this economic shit storm.
But, I imagine, they'll be on much different tracks. The corporate side will possibly thin their lists to focus more on the blockbusters and less on any risks, if any are left in their catalogs, and the independents will have to be smart about embracing technology. They cannot afford to be safe and rest on their laurels. Independent presses need to talk to their readers and work that crowd, and socially network to form communities online for their products. But then it seems they need to come up with a business model that is not based on the big corporate publishing world, that allows for flexibility: e-books without hardcopies, effective serial publishing that matches the most used handheld technologies, a space for visuals that capture the spirit of the communities, and a strong brand and maybe even a leader to give the brand visibility. It will be interesting to see who moves forward embracing these changes and in turn benefitting from all this change.
While I'm considering the future, I was also enjoying the past this weekend, thanks to the persistent posting of one Citizen Reader, who manages to mention writer Helene Hanff in almost every post. So I stopped by the Boston Public Library, which remains my favorite building in Boston, and picked up both 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, and I was of course quite charmed. One would have to be. I was also struck with how modern Hanff sounded in her correspondence - the first book is a collection of letters, the second diary entries. She even includes a conversation by Teletype at one point in The Duchess, that could be Tweets. But in general, what appealed to me is what appeals to most readers, I would assume: she's just a demanding, smart, independent gal who likes a good book, a nice pour of gin, and a city walk on her own. The anglophile stuff is a bit tiresome but I don't blame her.
Oh, and it made me miss London terribly, of course.