Martin Foner of NPL Consultants wrote a rant on book publishing in 2007. I don't agree with much of his rant. He gets carried away with depression. But his conclusions out of the rant do make sense: Publishers do have to move toward more selling online and more marketing online and more distribution online.
Unlike him, however, I do not believe that the bookstore trade is a dinosaur, about to be obliterated. And that book distribution is a dinosaur, also about to die a quick, painful death. But I do believe that smart publishers do not put all their eggs into one basket. You diversify. You find multiple ways to sell your books, via multiple markets, via multiple distribution strategies.
In his rant, Martin wrote that in ten years most publishers will be in one of four categories:
1. Sold out.
2. In business with a huge content-driven website.
3. In business with a substantial web presence and multiple channels to sell books (direct to consumers, premium sales, non-book trade retailers, web sellers, etc.).
I hope most of you fall into category 3. I think that's the best plan for most book publishers, given the talents we have.
But category 2 can also be a good plan (and perhaps more profitable, especially if you hit it Google big or Bing middling). But you will have to be a talented software engineer or hire such talent to make this pay off in a big way. As publishers, we tend to be content-driven while most successful websites are software-driven. Note: In today's world, you only need a great WordPress website to carry this off. WordPress offers so many wonderful plugins that allow your website to be whatever you want it to be: sales site, content driven, forums, membership site, article directory, etc.
As many of you know, I've become more and more of an advocate for Internet marketing. There are so many incredible opportunities to sell books via the Internet. The toughest part for many publishers will be deciding what paths to take (of the growing number of possible ways to market via the Internet). You can easily get overwhelmed by the possibilities. My advice: Focus. Don't buy into every new Internet promise, every new program. Find one to three ways that you like doing and which you find to work -- and continue to pursue and build those ways.
Personally, I'll never participate in Second Life (something that was in the news a lot in 2007, but is now is nearly invisible except for the fans it attracted early). I have no interest in participating in such virtual worlds. They can be a real time-sucker. And, yet, I know that some publishers will create great successes using virtual worlds. For me, though, I'd rather focus on email marketing, blogs, joint venture opportunities, creating relationships, teleseminars, webinars, HangOuts.
Plus, of course, I'll keep my fingers in offline ways to sell my books: speaking, premium sales, direct sales to consumers, and book trade distribution. I suggest you do something similar if you want to be around in ten years.
Where will you be in ten years? Where do you want to be in ten years? Please choose one of the first three options Martin described. Don't die.
A sidebar: Fifty years ago, everyone said that television would kill radio. It didn't happen. During the past 15 years, radio has been stronger than ever. What happened to the naysayers? They sold out a long time ago. Lost a chunk of money in the process.
Now everyone is saying that newspapers and books are dead. Magazines, too. I don't agree. I think they will all continue to exist for many, many years to come -- both in print and in electronic forms. The smart print publishers will migrate content to the web. They are already doing that. Forbes magazine already gets half its revenue from online. The New York Times is moving in that direction. Book publishers should do this as well. But don't ignore print. It still drives the online strength of most successful publications.