Eoin Purcell draws our attention to an insightful blog triptych on book publishing and its digital future by the thriller writer Barry Eisler. Read parts one, two and three and you will be better informed on the risks and opportunities for book publishers who are about to launch into the digital future.
Its a very good series, but surely Barry Eisler underestimates the extent to which publishers can reclaim and secure their audience, and their markets, by selling digital editions direct. Publishers will sell digital editions direct because that is going to be the most efficient way to do it. Further they will do it because this is going to be a very profitable development for most book publishers, especially those that cater to niches (and most book publishers DO cater to niches). They will outsource the tricky parts (eg customer service or technological innovation), to operations like Exact Editions, but they will be better placed than the record labels to provide this kind of service to the creators. Eisler notes that book publishers by and large do not have great brands:
First, we need to talk briefly about brands. Simply put, a brand is the emotional connection a consumer feels to a product or service. It’s what the product or service stands for in the consumer’s mind. What does Apple stand for? Virgin? Marlboro? Harley Davidson? Generally speaking, if you can easily and simply answer that question, you’re talking about a strong brand. If you can’t, the brand is weak.
Let’s perform the test on publishers: Doubleday? Putnam? Random House?
Needless to say, with a couple possible exceptions (Knopf still stands for a certain kind of literary fiction and physical quality; Harlequin, for romance), publishing houses are weak consumer brands. [Buzz, Balls and Hype]
We could do the same exercise with London publishers. Again with a few exceptions: Penguin, DK perhaps, and Faber for poetry, it would be hard to maintain that publishers have strong brands or put a strong emotional connection through to the consumer. But its an interesting point of contrast that magazines have very strong brands. Private Eye, Country Life, and Wallpaper* these brands pack a big punch. It is also astonishing that none of these magazines yet has a digital edition. Which would suggest that many major magazines are failing to establish an emotional connection with their loyal audience through the web.
Since a large part of their audience is now on the web at this precise moment, this is a glaring missed opportunity.