WSJ Says Book Publishers are Getting Back to Basics

The future of the book publishing industry looks … a lot like the past, with a couple of key exceptions. Publishers are getting back to basics, adjusting their business models to leverage the upswing back toward print and focusing on two things: 1) upping the quality of their print products, and 2) getting them to market faster.

According to Zeke Turner in the Wall Street Journal, “executives at the top four U.S. consumer book publishers say they are done relying on newfangled formats to boost growth.”

“It has been nearly 10 years since Inc. introduced its Kindle e-book reader amid the financial crisis, destabilizing publishers and challenging their well-honed business models,” Turner writes. “Now, e-book sales are on the decline, making up a fraction of publishers’ revenue, and traditional book sales are rising.”

Print book sales are seeing steady – if not rapid — growth in the U.S. (AAP figures note total revenue is up around 5% since 2013), while e-book sales continue to slide. Turner reports that, at the recent book industry trade fair in Frankfurt, the general consensus was that e-books are not the future of the industry. Publishers talked of “buying and printing books that readers want to buy—and they are streamlining their businesses to get them out faster than ever before.”

In addition to speed, publishers are refocusing on quality. Some, like HarperCollins CEO Brain Murray, believe e-book sales are down thanks to digital fatigue. Murray says his company is upping its investment in printed books, which he calls “the value anchor” for their business model.

He notes that printed books are “more beautiful now. You’ll see endpapers [and] a lot more design sensibility going into the print editions because we recognized that they can’t be throwaway.”

Publishers like Murray are putting more investment into printing a quality product, all the while working with alacrity to get new books to market much faster, a move necessitated by the fast pace of politics – a wildly popular topic in the current book marketplace.

There’s another element at play here too – younger readers are opting for printed books.

As Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy notes, younger fans “don’t want the e-book at all. They want the physical object. They want to own something that is connected to the person they like online and, number two, because they can share it.”

E-books, naturally, will remain a part of modern culture. They are convenient, easy to pack on vacation, and have offered countless authors the opportunity to publish. What publishers are realizing is that ten years after disrupting their industry, e-book sales are a part of – not the bulk of – their future.