In my last blog I mentioned doing an assessment of the book environment – to call it an industry is a bit of a misnomer.
One of the challenges in strategic planning is defining an industry. In the 1960’s a guy named Ted Levitt wrote an article called “The Marketing Myopia”. It is now considered a classic in The Harvard Business Review. His article is what led to a bit of a paradigm shift – arguably, it is was instrumental in launching branding as we know it today – it definitely changed strategic marketing.
The key point he made is that a product shouldn’t be thought of as something physical, or just thought of as a set features. Depending on the product, these features are important, but in terms of understanding one’s competition (and one’s customers), you need to look at the intangibles – what are the benefits your customers are looking to have fulfilled? For a long time, identifying needs and benefits was how new product opportunities arose. However, that’s not as simple as it may sound.
To put that in the context of books, we’re really talking about the joys of reading. Think of it then as a form of entertainment – and perhaps even broader in the context of leisure activities – in this context I’m really talking about fiction.
Without doing a formal numerical analysis, here’s what I see, and if I’m wrong, show me the numbers – just make sure they are accurate and valid. There’s a ton of questionable infographic material out there – very little background provided on how the information was obtained, sampling and so on – that kind of stuff really does matter!
How I See It
People are getting fed up with television as a source of entertainment (and information such as news) I’m sure sports is a constant – have you noticed how similar news coverage is to sports coverage? In the good old days a lot of television viewing was habitual, not so much any more. Younger people are becoming more selective, even though they can be very loyal to something they like. The content and credibility of the medium is not improving, and all the networks seem somewhat desperate. That may be partly do a faster, more instant society, where loyalties can be strong for a long time, then turn off in an instant.
Hollywood seems to be in the same boat as television, except perhaps for some genres. Although a lot of people still go to the movies, for many it is for something to do than for the film. More times than not, when I talk to people about this, about what they say, there is usually a tone of disappointment. Hollywood used to provide an element of escapism, but it seems that magic has gone . . . many people are rediscovering that magic through reading for enjoyment, whether that’s romance, YA, erotica, mysteries and so on. Perhaps what is saving Hollywood is that going to the movies is more of a social activity, while reading is done in isolation.
Social media has cut into television time, especially with younger people, but there seems to be a decline in that as well – the novelty is certainly over. The truth is that the term social is really misleading because no matter what the technology, it’s not the same as being there. In many ways it’s closer to a personal experience than a social one.
Reading offers a form of escape from so many stresses in the real world. This may be the age of information, but it is also a very unhealthy age of confusion – and that phenomenon is very strategic – that’s a topic all on its own.
A Little About Ebooks
I’m not sure that the e-book technology has increased the total time spent reading, even though it has changed the way people can find books, and created a certain amount of impulse buying. If there is a net increase in reading, then I’m sure it has more to do with the above shifts than ebook technology. The one caveat may be the impact of price – the lower prices certainly help increase the volume – maybe even having something to do with some people re-discovering the joy of reading. However, there comes a saturation point – there are limits to how much time a person will spend reading.
That issue of time is a big one, and part of that time concerns finding new books to read, and I do mean new, and not the discovery of older, and excellent, books. I’m not saying that every book published in paper is worth reading, but overall there is a pretty good standard that is lacking in the self-publishing craze. I would go so far to say that the supply far exceeds the demand.
That comment isn’t made because of the sheer volume – there is so much self-published work out there that I wouldn’t read even if it’s free. I’m doing some formal research now, and I can safely say that in my findings, and this is just based on my personal reading opinion, at least 80% of what I’ve researched isn’t worth a second look. While that may be based on my opinion, I can pretty much guarantee that most traditional publishers would say that number is low.
Out of the remaining 20%, about half of that has some serious potential with some editorial help and a little re-working – that’s a lot of books! It’s almost painful to read some of this material, in the sense that I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh, you are so close to making this a good read!”
Where Am I Going With All of This?
This is far from a formal research report, but then I have no intent of publishing everything on this blog – each paragraph above could easily be a chapter in a book. Having said that, it will soon be time to move on to another platform, and I will no longer be giving away all my work . . . my expertise . . . I can’t afford to do that. I know it has value, and at the very least I will be asking for donations for some of it.
My next post will talk about the specifics of where I’m going with this – it will include a list of ten hard-to-find ebooks (fiction) that to me are worth a second look, perhaps even a few hidden gems – it only took 25 hours of searching and researching . . . over 150 titles examined . . . none of which are from known authors. Hopefully you can see that I can’t provide that kind of service for free. Actually, I could if this was simply a hobby or if I was rich, but neither is the case.
Having said that, there is a big need to be filled, for readers and indie authors as well, and believe me, from a business point-of-view, the last thing the print part of the industry wants is for readers to easily find those gems, at least not before they do! That does not mean that I see traditional publishers as the enemy of self-publishers; it is more that self-publishing is a potentially huge threat to upsetting the Apple cart.
A Final Note on Paper
Finally, I’m like a great number of people that still prefer a printed book for reading. By the way, I used to work with the big printers, the ones that print major magazines and newspapers. That’s when I was busy doing press checks, printing catalogs on the big machines – 30,000 sheets an hour, 32 pages to a sheet – I wasn’t thinking of the environment that matters most – the trees – paper is the biggest input cost. By the time I left that career behind, paper recycling was an issue, but the bigger environmental issue was with the inks. I guess I just assumed re-forestation was balancing things out. Apparently it’s not, nor is it covered in the sports . . . ooops, I mean the news.
Here is what I mean by the bigger issue:
PS – I just came upon a memory from my McGill days, when I was studying strategic planning as one of two majors. Myself and a few classmates were having drinks with some of our profs one day. One of these was my accounting prof. This is back in 1984, when the personal computer was just coming out. Accounting went hand-in-hand with computing, and the MIS guy was talking about the concept of a paperless office. I remember how odd it was – the discussion with the accounting guy – turns out he was very shrewd. He was telling us about how he had invested in a paper brokerage firm, how he saw a big future in that because of computers!
PPS – In case you missed it the first time, that darling Supergirl up top is surrounded by trees!