Are books becoming extinct?

3 Factors Book Publishers Must Consider

Seth Godin announced that he isn’t going to use a conventional publisher for his next book. With twelve bestselling books and a top rated blog, Godin knows his audience and has a relationship with them. As an experienced direct marketer, Godin can leverage his fan base to distribute content and related projects, either for free or for a fee, to achieve his goals without the aid of a conventional book publisher.

To put Godin’s statement in context, look at the following three facts related to the book industry.

  1. E-Reader sales have surpassed analysts’ expectations. 3.27 million iPads were sold in the first quarter of this year. To counter the competition from Apple’s iPad, Amazon boosted sales by significantly cutting the kindle’s price.
  2. Related e-books sales have also increased, especially through Amazon and iTunes. According to Amazon, e-reader owners purchase three times as many books as they did prior to ownership.
  3. Bricks and mortar retailer, Barnes & Noble, had disappointing financial results with store sales down 2%. This doesn’t bode well for the book business. From a financial perspective, it’s important to understand that stores like Barnes & Noble make a higher margin from the fancy coffee confections they sell than the roughly 50% margin on books.

E-books don’t require publishers for book production and distribution. From a competitive perspective, they eliminate barriers to entry since they’re cheaper to produce and easier to distribute! Book publishers need to rethink their business model. Here are three critical factors they should consider:

  1. e-Readers are the shiny new technology toy. As a result, e-book sales are soaring. This is reminiscent of the introduction of CD players in the 1980s that caused an older market segment to stock up on CDs since the new players didn’t play older formats like records or cassette tapes. E-reader owners, unlike CD player owners in the 1980s, can use out of copyright books from the Gutenberg Project for free. Further, according to usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, reading on an e-reader is slower than reading a printed page. This may be attributable to the need to understand how the machine works and the fact that the type it renders is less clear.
  2. Authors must market their own books regardless of whether they’re printed and distributed by book publishers or self published via an online platform. The fact is that many publishers select authors based on their ability to sell books. In other words, as an author, do you have an audience who’s willing to purchase your content? To this end, it’s helpful to have a publishing track record or a built-in audience. Being a bestselling writer helps boost you to the top of the list. For example, best selling author James Patterson who Forbes rates the top paid author, paid to advertise his first novel. As former CEO of J. Walter Thompson, a major advertising agency, Patterson understood the importance of developing his brand. Of course, there are alternative methods to sell books. Brian and Jeffrey Eisenberg sold their first book, Call to Action, to maximize sales and make the best seller list. As part of their marketing, Call To Action was a company-sponsored give-away at a major tradeshow. As an author, what can you do to increase your marketability? Do you need a physical book to achieve your goals? Interestingly, the Eisenbergs got a major publisher, Thomas Nelson, and later returned to self-publishing.
  3. Long form content’s format is still evolving. Selling an e-book enables authors to write varying length and format books since they don’t need to worry about a book being large enough to attract attention on a bookseller’s shelf. In addition, it can link to other resources online and include a diverse set of content formats. This flexibility can enhance the book’s intrinsic usefulness, especially in the area of business and textbooks.

While online self-publishing is great for established authors, it can also enable lesser know authors to build a following where they previously might have been unable to break into the market. Therefore, book publishers, must reevaluate what functions they want to keep as their core expertise. Hopefully, they’ll think about this before the market makes the decision for them as it did with the music industry.

What do you think the book industry should do and why? Please contribute your opinions in the comments section.

Happy marketing,

Heidi Cohen


Here are some other interesting perspectives on the book publishing issue:

Disclosure: I worked in the book publishing business selling lots of books for Bertelsmann’s Bookspan division.  In the process, I was able to sell related product that was highly profitable.

Bryan Eisenberg is a fellow ClickZ columnist and friend.

Photo credit: Janet McKnight via Flickr

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