Friday, June 12, 2009

S&S and Proactive Digital

When the Bowker team launched our first online product we learned by experience, but one thing we got right was perspective. Even though nearly 100% of our revenue was in print, from that day forward we became an online database company. There was nothing we didn't consider to elevate our online product in the consciousness of our customers minds: not pricing, content, sales support or marketing. Our goal was to migrate all our customers from the print to the web product as fast as possible. Admittedly, there were many before us in the online database world who we could point to for guidance but we still managed to make mistakes. For example, we quickly understood that customer service was no longer about tracking a book shipment as it was about technical support, and selling wasn't about cold calling from New Jersey rather it became training on-site. Still, we were fast learners.

In the process of proactively migrating our customer base we aggressively increased the price of our print version while also reducing the content. We continued to add new content and new functionality to the on-line product while only moderately increasing pricing. We pulled back from third party data licenses and migrated these customers to our platform so we could maintain a direct relationship with all our customers. We placed sales reps in the field which hadn't been done for many years, and later added trainers in the field to ensure our customers were using the product to its capability.

All of these proactive tasks were established to not only support our new on-line business but also eliminate our print business. We always knew online and electronic was our future and we wanted to get there as fast as possible. Our product was better online and our relationship with the customers was more positive and engaged than it ever had been in the print environment. Most importantly, the company was able to survive and gain in strength which never would have happened had we not proactively engaged a digital strategy.

This week Simon & Schuster appears to have taken a similar proactive step in defining their own online future by placing 5,000 titles with Scribd. Many trade publishers at BookExpo seemed content in commenting on eBooks counting less than 5% of revenues (I'm being generous). In shugging off the (in)significance of the stat they also seemed to be saying 'it's not really up to us' to drive these numbers faster. And why would they want to drive eBooks when print is still so important? (This is the point where I point back to my example above).

In working with Scribd, S&S has said "we want to have some say in our digitial future" are we are not going to leave it in the hands of Amazon to dictate to us. I applaud this somewhat isolated example of a publisher taking control of their fate - however small the effort may appear to some at this stage - and look both for S&S to seek other relationships and for other publishers to join them. Which publisher will be first to eliminate a first edition print in favor of digital only?

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