From The Bookseller:
We recently announced that O’Reilly is no longer selling books and videos on shop.oreilly.com. We heard from some of our customers that they were unhappy about that decision, especially because no other sellers offer DRM-free e-books in multiple digital formats. They’re right about that, but there’s more to the story. And since we’ve always been transparent with our customers, here’s some additional context about why we made those recent changes.
O’Reilly has always been a privately held, self-funded company, and it’s a distinction we wear with pride. We don’t have any investors but our customers, who fund us by buying our products and services. That keeps us attuned to what the market is really telling us. But it also means we have to make decisions as we grow and change while living within our means—decisions about investments, about markets, and about our customers and employees.
O’Reilly started out as a book publishing company. I remember with pride joining the “animal” brand. But from the beginning, I knew that our core competency was not the actual books we printed but rather the knowledge of the network of authors and speakers who agreed to work with us to produce important and relevant content. That talent developed content that worked its way into books. But we always recognized that there were other ways to spread that knowledge, which led us to add a conference business, and a digital subscription business.
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Access to new subscription customers, both individuals and businesses, gave us even greater visibility into the needs of our users, which also took us into topic areas beyond technology. At the same time, digital enabled new learning modalities such as video and interactive content.
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Meanwhile, sales of books have declined consistently year after year since 2000! E-books expanded the market for a while, and direct distribution from oreilly.com was a great way to make them widely available while traditional retailers other than Amazon were slow to embrace that market. But starting a few years ago, e-book sales too started to flatten, and then to fall. Running oreilly.com as a distribution platform was effective, but also costly. It required a dedicated investment in e-commerce software, staff, marketing, and so on. It also required us to choose whether to direct incoming customers to the declining e-commerce business to buy standalone units, or to our growing subscription business.
As the slowdown accelerated, the contrast between the rapid growth of the subscription business and the interest in learning in new ways became ever more striking. Now, don’t get me wrong, we believe in books, and the effectiveness of text as a tool for sharing knowledge, but the business model that had given us such a great start three decades ago has changed deeply. Amazon is pretty much the only retailer still supporting computer books, and the unit sales are a small fraction of what they were in the past. We came up with creative ways to keep publishing books, supplementing our “definitive” books with smaller reports that we give away for free download, or as sponsored products, to capture either niche technologies or new approaches to learning. But all of this new creation meant we had to grow while balancing our total investment spending.
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So we had to make a tough decision, and we chose to support the side of the business that has the most customers, that is growing the fastest, and that supports all of the learning modalities that customers are demanding.
But we are also sensitive to those who still prefer to learn from and to own books. We are still publishing books, and you can buy them directly, either on paper or in a variety of electronic formats from a number of resellers, just not directly from us. We’ve closed our online store, not our publishing operation! We still support those who prefer the model of ownership to subscription.
Link to the rest at The Bookseller