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Book Publishing: The Challenges

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Purich Publishing Blog

02
Dec 2013

Book Publishing – The Challenges

POSTED BY Don Purich

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Where are all the bookstores? Where are all the readers? Are ebooks the future? The book world has changed dramatically since we started publishing. Twenty years ago there were lots of book stores (in our home city at least 4 independents in Saskatoon, Coles had five outlets, and the University bookstore had a great trade section) Chapters/Indigo was unheard of, Amazon was but a pipe dream, and ebooks were but science fiction. And books remained a great source of entertainment and information. Fifteen years ago I was travelled back from a publishing meeting with a friend. We both grew up in households where money was tight (he in an urban environment, me on a farm). But we both noted how important books were to us growing up. He went to the library often. In rural Saskatchewan, when I was growing up libraries were far and few. However, the provincial library had a great mail service; and even better was the mail library service provided by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. However, the point was that for both of us, books were a chance to experience a new environment, an escape, entertainment, and a chance to learn something new.

While books are still important to many people, there are many competing forms of escapism and sources of information. The result? People are reading and using books less. I remember some years ago, when I was also a columnist for the Western Producer, taking out books to write about the World Trade Negotiations; then not reading them because I found so much more information on the net (including several contacts who graciously shared their knowledge).

While readership is difficult to measure, most reports we’ve seen show a clear decline in book sales. This depressing fact is trotted out regularly at publishers meetings.  

Coupled with the decline in book sales are the dramatically changed book sales channels. Independent book stores are rare indeed (two in Saskatoon). Retail book sales are dominated by Chapters/Indigo (also the owners of Coles) and Amazon. Is the decline in book sales due to fewer channels, or is the decline of bookstores a result of fewer book buyers? A chicken and egg question. And these sales outlets, along with some university bookstores, have changed their focus; books are but one product. Go to any Chapters store or Amazon on-line. There are plenty of other things to buy.

Adding to the challenge is the introduction of the ebook. Much to be said for the ebook, but its production presents many problems to a small niche publisher (more on this in a future post). Depending on whose statistics you read ebooks have somewhere between 15 – 20% of the market. From the publishers I’ve spoken to (granted, not large multinationals but independent Canadian operators) the investment in ebooks is extensive, but the returns are small.

So how does a publisher survive? Of course, in the last few years we’ve seen many publishers disappear or phase out (Douglas and McIntyre – a great Canadian success story – went bankrupt earlier this year).

As a publisher we’ve decided that the key to survival is to stay small and specialized. We developed a targeted mailing list (direct mail still works) and e-mail list. And now we’re trying social media and we have released 16 books in eformat.

Where do we go from here? Books will continue to exist. Perhaps there will be a few fewer print books. And hopefully, small independent publishers can survive. It has often been the small Canadian owned independents who have taken the risk on unknown authors, and have produced books that may not make the commercial best sellers list but make a significant contribution in defining our society and our lives.

 

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