Before we grab our torches and pitchforks and lock the iPad and Kindle in the highest room of the tallest tower for destroying the sanctity of books, we should take a collective deep breath and remember that Amazon accounts for 10% of the book industry's sales. That said, Amazon's announcement this week that eBooks outsold hardcovers three months in a row did create a few waves. Digital waves thrown against the already capsizing ship of brick and mortar booksellers.
This trend isn't just hitting Amazon. Publishers have reported triple-digit year-over-year sales increases on eBooks, some up to 400%! The industry doesn't yet know if this is a windfall, or if their $9.99 eBooks are taking away sales from their $29.95 hardcovers. Time will tell, but in either case there is an immediate need to change the publishing business model in order to capitalize upon eBooks while at the same time protect printed books.
The problem is that publishers are trapped between production costs that can't be changed and price points that can't be changed. There is very little a publisher can do to increase its margin and absorb any losses from high-ticket hardcover items, even with a huge increase of digital sales. But there are some things.
Here are three of them:
1. Efficient inventory: publishers should go non-returnable. My last blog talked about the financial surplus that would occur with doing away with an antiquated process (even adjusting for lost sales).
2. Find a niche: build an audience for a niche and stick with it. It is very costly to rebuild audiences for every title a publisher picks up. Carving a niche and consistently doing one thing well is efficient marketing, keeps costs down and builds a recognizable and reliable brand for consumers.
3. Public Relations: with ad avoidance currently at over 50%, it is far too expensive to rely upon advertising to bring in new readers. Old fashioned public relations, engaging with the media, third-party endorsements and word of mouth are more cost-effective ways to directly reach readers.
Who knows if eBooks will eat up print books. I believe they can co-exist. But with consumer behavior the way it is now, it is critical publishers take on efficiency as a way to navigate this trend.
Jennifer Havenner is the publisher for Los Angeles-based The Way Things Are Publications, an independent publisher that focuses on social issues.