This was 'posted' in my final week at PriceWaterhouse before I took up my new role at Bowker. I had been collecting and commenting on news items and circulating a news digest via email on the industry for our Entertainment, Media and Communications practice for the prior two years and this 'post' is from my attendance at BookExpo 1999 (Los Angeles). It was posted 5/22/99. (All of my digests from those years are in my archive on the lower right of the PND blog page).
At the BookExpo show in Los Angeles, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) reported that last years trade sales declined for the first time in seven years. This information was in contrast to the popularly held belief that internet or online sales had expanded the market for books generally and further the report indicated that affluent educated readers are buying fewer titles. In the day prior to this announcement, I asked Peter Olson CEO of Randon House (who was participating in a panel discussion) that if the market share of online booksellers was to grow to 20-25% of the market by 2003 as is predicted by BCG and Jupiter Communications where he thought this additional share was going to come from. He responded by saying that he believed online sales were incremental to existing book sales and therefore there would occur limited shift from other traditional outlets. The BISG reported that online selling accounted for 2% of total sales last year and as has been the case over the past five years independent book store sales declined and chain stores saw their share of the market increase.
During the same panel discussion, Michael Lynton – CEO of Penguin Group commented that the current price model for online book selling would almost certainly change and that the biggest risk would be the negative gross margin model. “If someone were to take all front list titles and sell them at a loss this would radically change the model for selling publishing product online.” Such companies sell ‘below the line’ products such as credit cards, services and advertising as sources of income. Priceline.com is the most recent example of a model that didn’t really exist on the web six months ago.
While at the show I also had a conversation with Mike Lovett who is the CEO/President of the Ingram Distribution Company. We spoke about the proposed purchase by Barnes and Noble of the company and he is convinced that the merger will go ahead. “They have interviewed – which is a polite way of saying deposed – many, many B&N and Ingram people over the past six months as well as others in the industry” he commented and that the Justice department he believed were ‘trying their best to understand the publishing industry.’ At this point he thinks that the original issues with the merger have been answered and that there may be some request to reduce operations in certain areas but for them it wouldn’t be a big deal. I would think that the transcripts from this review would be interesting reading for anyone interested in this industry.
At the BookExpo show, a company named On Demand Machine Corp displayed a book printing system that can print and bind a standard trade paper back in a machine which measures eight feet by four feet. This machine is designed to fit in a bookstore and can both store electronic titles in its memory and call up additional titles from the company head office via satellite. Customers can order the books, confirm the title is the one they want and purchase using a credit card. The transaction takes a little more than five minutes. The first full implementation is scheduled to take place in June at The Tattered Cover in Denver. My guess is you will see similar machines at Kinkos, Airports and other public places in the not too distant future.
Other interesting comments from panel discussions at BookExpo:
The traditional book distribution channel poses too many problems for some publishers particularly those which are smaller. The difficulty they face is not the risk people will copy their books rather that customers couldn’t find them in the first place. Placing content on the web actually increased sales of the printed product by 30%. National Academic Press and Rough Guides are examples of this. Additionally, McGraw Hill’s Beta Books have been so successful on line (while still generating bookstore sales) that the company is expanding the availability on the internet of non technical titles as well.
Many people commented that the highest risk job in publishing is ‘International Rights Manager.’
Xerox has developed a product that allows the production of a book anywhere in the world via web ordering. There will be literally 100,000’s of titles which were previously ‘out of print’ available via print on demand to individuals over the next five years. Additionally, what are now considered ‘non viable’ titles by publishers will also be made available as publishers make publishing investments without the huge investment in large volume printing. Coupled with this, some projections assume that front list sales will decline as a percentage of total sales as back list sales increase.