Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: The ongoing evolution of books and media

BEA conference recap

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the BookExpo America (BEA), an enormous publishing trade show hosted at the Jacob Javitz Center  in NYC. Monsoon Commerce has been involved with BEA—and the media community—for many years through our retail arm, Alibris, and via the many media e-commerce merchants that use Monsoon Pro, Edge, and Connect to optimize sales on Amazon, eBay, and other marketplaces. Certainly there is no shortage of change within the industry, and the conference was filled with discussion and debate on the direction and evolution of books and media.  A couple of common themes persisted through the show:

The shift from ‘p’ to ‘e’
Some interesting data from our friends at Bowker and the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) highlights the continued decline of physical books while electronic books begin to flat line. The percentage of book buyers who have purchased an ebook has leveled off at around 17%, mainly due to slow acceptance in categories other than Adult Fiction. Seems pretty surprising that the growth has leveled off, and questions still loom as to when other categories (mainly Juvenile and Adult Non fiction) will make the transition.

Social Reading and Discovery
One of the more promising and emerging trends is the development of social reading and discovery tools. Several sessions were filled with discussion on this topic, with many pointing out that few solutions exist. Peter Hildick-Smith from the Codex Group pointed out that as physical stores go away, so does discoverability. Two years ago, 31% of respondents found the last book they read in a bookstore. As of the end of May 2012, that number has decreased by 45% — down to 17%. Sites like Goodreads continue to grow in buzz and traffic – Goodreads boasts 9mm registered users and a 38% increase in visitors. Clearly a shift is occurring here.

Channel shifts
There was nonstop discussion on how the industry can scale and grow, especially facing significant changes to business models. For instance, distributors who previously sold to Borders are now on the hunt to replace that volume. Since there is no single outlet to replace those sales, the distributors are forging relationships with secondary and tertiary retailers. Some of these new retailers are looking at third-party tools to effectively manage price, and the distributors are looking at ways to augment their services to include these new requirements.

On the publishing side, individual authors are being challenged to self-promote their work rather than have the publisher solely be responsible for generating buzz and sales. Authors have new social tools such as Facebook and Tumblr to build buzz, but must put in more time to champion the building of a fan base and creating buzz. A great example of how a grass roots connection between author and reader can be found with the explosive growth of “50 Shades of Grey.” Initially published at the end of May 2011, the book was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for 2011 solely based on reviews from readers. The author then fueled engagement in social channels by directly engaging with fans. Soon, other media outlets were talking about the book and a tipping point occurred – the book is now a #1 bestseller on the New York Times best seller list.

Clearly channel and format shifts continue to drive change within the book industry. Ebooks are taking share from physical books. Other sources of entertainment (think Angry Birds) are the primary sources of entertainment on electronic devices and taking share away from book reading. Overall dollars spent on purchasing books of all formats are in decline. With all of this change will come innovation – both within the creation and consumption of books, as well as augmenting enterprise solutions that help retailers, publishers, and distributors drive new growth through new channels and improve existing operations. As it stands now, there were too many presentations at BEA that had a giant question mark as their last slide, indicating that the industry is still trying to figure it all out.

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About Adam Silverman

I'm the Vice President and General Manager for Alibris (a division of Monsoon Commerce), a marketplace for independent sellers of books, movies, music, and games. With over 15 years of experience in retail strategy, operations, and marketing, I've had the pleasure to work with some of the best retailers on the plant, including Alibris. You can learn more about me by visiting http://www.linkedin.com/in/adamsilverman
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