Someone recently asked me a helpful diagnostic question for those in leadership, a question that helps you get at the big picture. “What causes you to lose sleep at night?” Certainly for me the Great Recession and the sea changes it may be bringing in book publishing have been right at the top of the list for me.
Mike Shatzkin gives some insight into this question in a provocative piece he wrote last month. He enumerates several key problems, just a few of which are:
- Bookstores are becoming rare, and shelf space has declined.
- Channels to existing customers are getting narrower, harder to reach.
- Backlist digital rights are a mess.
That’s the bad news. What’s the good news? These are problems for trade publishers much more so than for most others. If you are a niche publisher, a special-interest publisher, a publisher with a focused, clearly defined market–well, bookstores haven’t been what you were about for a long time. You already know a lot about reaching a niche market, or else you wouldn’t exist. And you are probably better positioned than large, general trade publishers to make some digital hay with your specialized content for your committed, highly invested core audience.
The good news–of the thousands of publishers, there are actually very few trade publishers. The vast majority are narrow and focused. If we are nimble enough to meet the changes coming on our industry, we may find ourselves surviving better in our select environments than the behemoths, who will find adapting to a world with a disappearing general market an arduous task.