Terrific piece by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker from a few weeks ago on the state of the book publishing industry. Auletta covers the shift to e-books mostly from the publishers’ perspective, which is illuminating:
Tim O’Reilly, the founder and C.E.O. of O’Reilly Media, which
publishes about two hundred e-books per year, thinks that the old
publishers’ model is fundamentally flawed. “They think their
customer is the bookstore,” he says. “Publishers never built
the infrastructure to respond to customers.” Without bookstores,
it would take years for publishers to learn how to sell books
directly to consumers. They do no market research, have little
data on their customers, and have no experience in direct
retailing. With the possible exception of Harlequin Romance and
Penguin paperbacks, readers have no particular association with
any given publisher; in books, the author is the brand name.
That the publishers view bookstores — rather than readers — as their customers explains much of what ails the industry. And that Tim O’Reilly has always seen the reader as his customer explains why O’Reilly Media, which was once as print-centric as any other book publisher, is doing better than most publishers.
Another choice observation, from Amazon’s Russ Grandinetti:
In Grandinetti’s view, book publishers — like executives in
other media — are making the same mistake the railroad companies
made more than a century ago: thinking they were in the train
business rather than the transportation business.
(Think about that observation as applied to Microsoft’s executive leadership: Do they think they’re in the software business, or the Windows business?)
★ Tuesday, 18 May 2010