‘The iPad, the Kindle, and the Future of Books’

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