Monday, May 11, 2009

Embracing Change

We must embrace change or we'll be wiped out by it, right? So here at SotB, we have been embracing the e-revolution, slowly but surely... some of us more than others (read: Brian = progressive, anti-Kindle Christopher = grump).

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.


Christopher said...

Um, 84 Charing Cross Road? Yeah, that's "progressive."

Brian said...

Someone didn't read the first HALF of the post, and notice the segue to that title. But judge away, I'm not bothered.

Christopher said...

I truly love you.

Citizen Reader said...

What could be more progressive than a smart independent gal who made her living in New York City by writing? That's always been a challenge--and Helene was progressive enough to meet it.

I'm so glad you liked the books. If you have any interest in New York City I'd also highly recommend "Letter from New York." I'm personally saving her book "Q's Legacy" until I'm done with some big projects and can savor every page of it.

Helene forevah! (I liked your previous post about the Flirtexting book, by the way.)

sarah jo said...

I have a tremendous soft and sentimental spot for this book as my grandmother gave it to me years ago when I was a soft and sentimental pre-teen. Turn out, there's also a tenuous family connection to the author that I still can't quite figure out. (Also, the movie version of 84 Charing Cross Road boasts a stunningly talented cast of leads: Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, and Mercedes Ruehl.

Postillion said...

It's refreshing to finally see a post about digital books and "change" that thinks about the actual market place.