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Book Publishers Go Back to Basics

16 October 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Book publishers are giving an advance review of the industry’s future, and it looks a lot like the past.

After a decade of technological upheaval and lackluster growth, executives at the top four U.S. consumer book publishers say they are done relying on newfangled formats to boost growth.

It has been nearly 10 years since Amazon.com Inc. introduced its Kindle e-book reader amid the financial crisis, destabilizing publishers and challenging their well-honed business models.

Now, e-book sales are on the decline, making up a fraction of publishers’ revenue, and traditional book sales are rising. The consumer books industry is enjoying steady growth in the U.S., with total revenue increasing about 5% from 2013 to 2016, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Executives gathered in Frankfurt for the industry’s biggest trade fair said they are returning to fundamentals: buying and printing books that readers want to buy—and they are streamlining their businesses to get them out faster than ever before.

. . . .

The shift is a surprise reversal for an industry that experts just a decade ago predicted was facing radical change, if not a slow death, because of digitization and changing reading habits. Instead, e-book sales in the U.S. were down about 17% last year, according to the AAP industry group, while printed book revenue rose 4.5%.

Interviews at the Frankfurt Book Fair with the top four consumer book publishers in the U.S.—Penguin Random House, CBS Corporation’s Simon & Schuster Inc., Lagardère SCA’s Hachette Livre and News Corp ’sHarperCollins Publishers—showed the decade of seeking cover from outside threats is over, but the fight to overcome the lackluster growth it left behind has just begun.

One thing all agree on is the need for speed. Companies are reinvesting in printed books after years of cost-cutting, and they are building pipelines to bring author’s words into readers’ hands faster.

. . . .

Mr. Murray blamed flagging e-book sales on “screen fatigue,” and said HarperCollins was upping investment in printed books, “the value anchor” for the entire business.

Printed books are “more beautiful now,” he said. “You’ll see endpapers [and] a lot more design sensibility going into the print editions because we recognized that they can’t be throwaway.”

. . . .

And after years “spent taking pennies out of the cost of making a book,” the company is raising the quality of its print editions again, she said.

. . . .

Simon & Schuster’s Ms. Reidy said a young generation of internet natives has been turning to print books—a trend she noticed when her company signed a deal with Rupi Kaur, a poet based on Instagram, to sell and distribute her work in the U.S.

Her young fans “don’t want the e-book at all. They want the physical object,” Ms. Reidy said. “They want to own something that is connected to the person they like online and, number two, because they can share it.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Nothing but clear sailing ahead for traditional publishing according to the view from Frankfurt.

“Screen fatigue” again.

PG did a quick search and could not find any large organizations outside of publishing that are talking about screen fatigue. If it’s more than a figment of Big Publishing’s hopeful imagination, Apple, Facebook and Google should be desperately afraid. PG hasn’t seen any indication of that.

Big Publishing, Ebooks

31 Comments to “Book Publishers Go Back to Basics”

  1. I wonder so how faster are they going to bring print books?

    Right now its at least 12 months out from acceptance of ms, right?

  2. I’m just gobsmacked that they’re really touting screen fatigue. I mean, what? Do they not know people will stare at a phone screen for hours? Their TV. Their computer. Their…yes…kindle.

    When I hear Samsung or Apple talking about screen fatigue from phones, then maybe I’ll buy that.

    And divesting (or not investing in) transitory goods is not a fad. It’s the way younger generations think. Why buy a book that will sit on a shelf forever, probably never to be read again? It’s environmentally unfriendly, completely static, and performs no second function. That is the antithesis of today’s requirements for purchase.

    Yes, some still buy them. Yes, some will always buy them. But the numbers their dreaming of are done and over.

    And not to mention that once we reach a certain age and our eyes no longer like tiny print on white paper…well…electronic version with that lovely adjustable font size is where we turn.

    This is just bloofery.

  3. They consider 5% growth over three years a good thing? Um, no.

    Of course, they’re still ignoring indie publishing.

  4. Screen fatigue gets mentioned on a lot of self-help and self-improvement blogs, but it’s not very convincing. We’re being told to put up the devices to make real connections with real people, but the fact is, it’s a lonely world without those devices. I have more friends now than ever, even if some of those friendships are shallow. The fact is, half my real-world friendships are antagonistic, shallow, and need-based. Grow up in a rural area and your friends are whoever you can find. The internet opens up the world to you. 🙂

  5. “We’re not losing costumers fast enough, so here’s what we’re going to do…”

  6. Screen Fatigue?
    Did theater troupes predict that TV would be a fad because of screen fatigue?

  7. “Executives said they are returning to fundamentals: buying and printing books that readers want to buy.”

    Now there’s an idea…

  8. I agree, screen fatigue is bull. I say this as someone who spends work and play time looking at a screen.

    Printed books are “more beautiful now,” he said. “You’ll see endpapers [and] a lot more design sensibility going into the print editions because we recognized that they can’t be throwaway.”

    Now, this I have been seeing. Remember when those VC Andrews books had “gold” page edges, to simulate gilt edging? Now I’m seeing publishers use red or blue, etc. And the pretty end papers. I have a review copy of a hardcover YA novel (something in the Gemma Doyle trilogy) that came with a lace bookmark. They’re doing nice things with covers, we’re talking silk matte and spot UV highlighting and so on. Those touches do indeed separate their production values from CreateSpace, I’ll give them that.

    But beautifying books means nothing if they don’t work on the relevant fundamental of publishing books readers want to buy. I applaud them for recognizing good stories matter. Now for the second revelation: paying the writers to make it worth their their while…

  9. I wonder what’s actually happening with “news reports” like this one — are publishers really just sticking their head in the sand, being oblivious to what’s going on in the world around them? Do they honestly believe what these kinds of reports say? (Are the underlings fudging numbers to make their corporate overlords happy?) Do NY publishers legitimately believe that they’ve made it past this little digital crisis and now it’s time to go back to normal?

    Or is it a hope that if they say something often enough, it will somehow become fact/truth? (I suspect that to be the case with Douglas Preston. He’s saying crap he knows isn’t true in the hopes of convincing people to stop buying digital books so he can purchase more farmhouses in Maine.)

    I will say this – I love books. I love pretty books. My idea of a perfect night out by myself used to involve the local Barnes and Noble. But these days I only read paper books if I check them out from the library. They hurt my fingers and my wrists (especially the heavy ones) if I read them for too long (and I like to read for long stretches of time). My Kindle is so much easier and I read everything on that or on my phone. And as I age I imagine I’ll be thrilled that I can increase the font size. If someone forced me to choose one format over the other, I’d choose digital every time.

  10. the value anchor

    Anchors sink and prevent movement.

  11. > they are building pipelines to bring
    > author’s words into readers’ hands faster.

    So, they’re finally going to set up some web stores? Or do they mean “time from ms. to shelf?”

    If the former, they’re probably too late to catch that ship.

    If the latter, it’s not just price, or the “local” store being 35 miles away; the hours of the “job” thing conflict with the local store; the narrow windows of overlap have to compete with other, more important things that have to be done in those windows of the 9-to-5 world. The cost of that 70-mile jaunt is more than time and money.

  12. I find it amusing that the Big Four STILL can’t admit they’ve lost the majority of the e-book market to Indies. They’ve priced themselves RIGHT out of the market on e-books.

    I have to admit that I haven’t seen the figures from the last 2 Author Earnings, but I doubt that Indie e-books have given up much in the way of market share.

    As for buying paper books – paper books get dusty and they make my eyes burn and itch. So I buy e-books.

  13. When I freelanced as a software troubleshooter, screens were CRTs, and screen fatigue was a real thing. I had to use the screen the customer supplied. I lost count of the nights I spent in agony from eye burn caused by high-radiation monitors.

    Laptop screens and flat screens are zero-radiation monitors. So are e-ink readers.

    I know screen fatigue from direct, personal experience. This ain’t it. Mr. Murray knows not whereof he speaks.

  14. Smart Debut Author

    In another surprising reversal, Apple’s next-gen iPhone Y and the new Samsung Nexus will both be made of bundled paper, and come with a box of #2 pencils and envelopes for “p-mail”.

    “Kids are abandoning their Instagram accounts and returning to mailing each other the traditional way,” says Apple CEO Tim Cook.

    Mark Zuckerberg of social-media giant Facebook agrees; the next release of Facebook will be, per its titular brand, an actual hardbound leather book. “This younger generation is handing their devices back to their parents and asking for newspaper subscriptions instead,” he says. “For some bizarre reason, they are *sniffing* books now — maybe it’s because of all the binding glue…”

  15. I feel screen fatigue all the time. Like when I want to buy a Heinlein to reread, and the e-book is ten bucks American.

    If you would offer your backlist for three or four dollars, you would sell a ton, but no, gotta squeeze us.

    There’s a ton of older books I would buy to replace my physical copy with a version on my Kindle, but I’m not paying that kind of money for the convenience.

    Then my purchases go to Indies instead, especially ones who also entertain and inform me online. Kathy Rusch, any of the Mad Genius Club, etc.

    • I know the feeling. Between me and my wife (a pair of 30 year olds) we have a library’s worth (think small-town library numbers) of books that we’d love to move to digital other than some sentimental ones. The problem being that for quite a few they’re either more expensive than a new hard copy, or not available at all.

      I mean, $10 for a digital copy of a book first published in 1984, that I’ve owned three paperback and now a hardcover collection of the series, none of which cost more than $6 (well, $15 for all four in a single hardcover) to start with? Not happening. I did the math at one point while I was on deployment, and it’s more cost effective for us to have a dedicated home library than it is to buy digital copies of our current collection.

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