A Love for Print at Digital Book World
by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Director of Audience Development, Digital Book World
If you didn’t know any better, you might be inclined to believe that eBooks had already hit the tipping point, representing far more than their estimated “3% of total trade sales”. Even allowing for the possibility that actual eBook sales might be twice as high as reported, the attention they receive can sometimes seem to be a bit disconnected from reality.
At last week’s eBook Summit, Kneerim & Williams’ Steve Wasserman noted: “I suppose we could sum up this entire two-day conference under the headline ‘too early to tell’.” Of course, eBooks are an important part of Digital Book World’s program — we’ll cover everything from optimization to pricing to their effect on contracts, old and new — but as Wasserman suggested, where they will ultimately fit in the overall picture has yet to be determined.
As such, Digital Book World’s focus is on the big picture — transforming the underlying publishing business model to leverage the advantages, and overcome the challenges, offered by digitization, while recognizing that the model is still predominantly driven by print sales.
Our Supporting Sponsor, SBS Worldwide, has been an integral part of the publishing industry’s supply chain for 26 years as the driving force behind freight management. Their chairman, Steve Walker, will speak at Digital Book World on how the digital transition has affected the supply chain and the opportunities it’s created.
In their latest bulletin, they published a fun interview with me about Digital Book World, reprinted here with their permission:
Registrations for January’s Digital Book World conference in New York, organized by New York-based F&W Media, are in line with expectations – and that’s good news for Guy Gonzalez since his business card reads ‘Director, Audience Development, F&W Media’.“We know potential attendees have to justify the expense of attending and the programme our conference chair Mike Shatzkin (of the Idea Logical Company) and his advisory board have come up with is absolutely on point,” says Gonzalez. “Reaction to Digital Book World’s underlying premise of ‘less talk, more action’ has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Gonzalez adds that registrants to date represent a broad range of publishers, from Random House and National Geographic to smaller houses such as romance and ‘new worlds’ publisher Samhain of Macon, Georgia. Gonzalez has a feeling that the talk by Brian Napack of Macmillan on ebooks and piracy “will get some people heated up”, while, as an advocate of publishers moving to “a community-oriented model”, he’s especially looking forward to the presentations by Sourcebooks’ Dominique Raccah and Hay House’s Reid Tracy.
There is much talk about iPod moments in the digital arena these days, but Gonzalez thinks we are not even close yet. “Books are not like music, at least when it comes to fiction. The album was a commercial construct that digitization made irrelevant. The ability to purchase only the singles you wanted couldn’t be controlled by record labels once they were available digitally. No one wants to buy Chapter 15 of The Lost Symbol!
“There’s a huge opportunity to revive short stories and poetry, though. And in non-fiction, especially areas like textbooks, cookbooks, and how-to, the iPod moment is already here. Many publishers, including F+ W Media, slice and dice their content for purchase by chapters or projects.”
There is also much speculation on what the size of the digital market is currently, and how much it will grow. Gonzalez says: “I’ve seen estimates that put eBooks around 2-5% of total sales, roughly similar to that of audiobooks. They certainly have the potential to expand the market and represent a bigger share down the road, especially as awareness has spiked, but I think projecting anything higher than 25% in the next 5 years is being irrationally exuberant. Certain niches, though, will be much higher than that.”
Born and raised in New York City, “although I’ve tried to move away several times”, Gonzalez now lives across the river in New Jersey with his wife and two children. He’s worked in publishing since leaving the army in 1993, chiefly on the magazine side of the industry which explains his enthusiasm for the niche approach and engaging directly with readers. “There are a lot of lessons for book publishers in the current state of the magazine industry, perhaps the most critical being that the closer you are to your readers, the more likely you’ll be to weather the storm of events beyond your control.”
What does he like to do when he’s not immersed in the digital world? “If you ask my wife she’ll say ‘not enough!’ – but I’m a writer too, so the fate of the publishing industry has personal relevance beyond my day job.”
And finally, it has to asked: “Mets or Yankies?” “Sadly, the Mets. I’ve always had a thing for the underdog. Might explain my love for print…”
Considering print still represents 94-97% of total sales, it’s a bit crazy to think of it as the underdog, no?
The publishing industry is notorious for jumping on new trends and milking them dry — making as many bad calls as good ones in the process — but despite the over-the-top hype around eReaders this holiday season, the reality is the digital transition is much more evolution than revoluti0n. Publishers who take the time to develop an integrated and viable long-term digital strategy are far more likely to survive than those who panic and jump on the fledgling bandwagon.
A love for print is neither nostalgic, nor impractical; for most established publishers, it’s the lifeblood that will fuel their transformation, and if done right, could potentially expand the market for books, not cannibalize it.