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From My Perch: A View of Publishing in 2013

PUBLISHED: January 22, 2013


MorBCN / Flickr

MorBCN / Flickr


Editor’s note: We are very happy to announce that Kathleen Schmidt (@bookgirl96) will be joining VQR every month to offer insight into the book publishing industry. Look for her column on the fourth Tuesday of every month.


As the publishing world prepared for the 2012 holiday season, news broke of the merger between Random House and Penguin. Not long after that, a potential Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins merger made news, and it seemed as if the world of books would implode. Now, a few weeks into 2013, most of us literary types are left to ask what happens next. While the answer isn’t simple, an examination of the issues facing the book industry this year can offer some insight on what could (or could not) possibly happen:

If what happened in the music industry is any indication, Random Penguin is not the only merger we will see in publishing. Simply broken down, the publishing industry is too big. There are far too many books published and not enough people buying them. If the big six become the big four, there is no doubt that there will be major staff cuts, fewer books published, and even more tightening of marketing and publicity budgets.

Barnes & Noble
Even though they have outlasted Borders, Barnes & Noble has a major problem: merchandising. Step inside any of their stores, and you’ll quickly notice that books are only a fraction of what they sell. There are toys, music, movies, candles, pens, candy, and e-readers all ready for the taking. Given the clout Barnes & Noble has had over book jackets, content, and even titles, it would seem they are losing revenue, and therefore have become less influential during a book’s pre-publication stage. This isn’t such a bad thing, but it does tell us the superstore’s days are numbered.

Independent Bookstores
If there is a shining star on the retail side of the publishing industry, independent bookstores are it. Where else can someone actually recommend a book in person that they have (gasp!) actually read? Unfortunately, many independent bookstores have been forced to close their doors. The ones who have managed to remain strong in a tough industry will keep growing, and keep their fiercely loyal customers reading.

The most explosive growth the publishing industry has seen is in this category. Yes, anyone can publish a book. No, not everyone will read it. Those self-published titles that manage to break out are exceptions; there is only one Fifty Shades of Grey, and that kind of success is nearly impossible to imitate. That said, it is hard to ignore the fact that some quality writers are forgoing agents, advances, and big publishing houses so they can retain complete control over the production and marketing of their books. This is a trend that will not reverse.

By now, you have probably heard of the fundraising website Kickstarter. The premise is simple: you create a project, set a fundraising goal, offer premiums to donors, and make sure you have something other people will want to spend money on. Authors are now using websites like Kickstarter, Pubslush, Indiegogo, Unbound, and to crowdsource funding for their books. The idea of testing the market for your book by crowdsource funding is appealing: you will know if there is an audience for what you’re writing. The question then remains: will other people buy the book? It’s too soon to know the answer, but it’s also hard to ignore the fact that the crowdsource option exists.

The statistics for 2012 are astounding: 13 million members, over 20 million reviews, and more than 210 million books added to members’ shelves. All of this means one thing: Goodreads is ripe for acquisition. If we were to speculate, Apple or Amazon could gobble up the reader recommendation site … but would they? Only time will tell.

Marketing and Publicity
The line between these two functions has been blurred for some time now. From the outside looking in, the only difference between the two is the titles that appear after someone’s name. Publicists are marketers, and marketers are publicists, especially in the digital realm. As consolidations become more common, job functions will change, and so will the idea that marketing and publicity must be separate.

The Takeaway from Digital Book World
Last week, I attended a few sessions at Digital Book World, where discoverability of books was the hot topic. But first, some statistics from Bowker that represent the book consumer from January-September 2012:

•  60 percent of book buyers are female.
•  28 percent of book buyers are age fifty-five and above.
•  One in five people buy books on pure impulse.
•  93 percent of book buyers have a Facebook account.
•  50 percent of book buyers own a Kindle.
•  A quarter of all books published are bought from Amazon.
•  Book buyers discover print books via in-store book displays.
•  Book buyers discover digital books via recommendations from other people.
•  Consumers will purchase a physical book because of its subject and purchase an e-book because of its author.
•  35 percent of all e-books purchased are in the romance category.

As with any research, this is subjective and does not represent all consumers, but it is interesting to see how much growth there has been in the digital arena.

Of all the panels I attended, I found the “Libraries: More Important Than Ever for Discovery” discussion the most informative. One of the most overlooked venues for marketing books, libraries should be a priority for the publishing community. On the flip side, I learned that there is no centralized way for self-published authors to get their books into libraries. I am hopeful this will change in the coming year.

Key points from this panel include:

•  There are 169 million library patrons in the US, 150 million issued library cards, and 9,046 public libraries.
•  48 percent of all patrons use the library as a source of book discovery.
•  71 percent of all patrons use the library for digital book discovery.
•  Debut authors benefit most from libraries.
•  Libraries fill the gap between a book getting popular and being popular.
•  Libraries do not return books to publishers (retailers do).
•  Heavy “holds” at libraries can be indicative of a book selling well.

Do you own a library card? If not, you may want to consider getting one, especially if you are part of the book publishing community.

In 2013, instead of publishing even more books, publishers must focus on the “how” instead of the “why” regarding discovery and purchasing habits of the consumer. People buy books because they like them; now publishers need to fine-tune how books are discovered. If they don’t, expect even more bleak sales numbers in the future. Finding your audience is everything; publishing great books with a dedicated team who can lead you to them shouldn’t be considered reaching for the stars.

What are your predictions for book publishing in 2013? Leave them in the comments below.


About the author: Kathleen Schmidt has over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry. Currently, she is CEO of KMSPR, a book publicity firm. Find her on Twitter: @Bookgirl96 or @kmspr.


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Adrijus G.'s picture
Speaking of Libraries, seems underused, haven’t heard a lot of recommendations to use it altho I have talked with one of Indy Publishers who really liked it and said it is very nice for them. Small amount of sales through each library but it adds up because of number of them.

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