Model behaviour

<p>Dragging a European friend around New York last week to some publishing meetings, we fell to discussing the industry. My friend, not a publisher himself, was astonished by the phlegmatic acceptance that many titles would fail commercially, and how no one was inclined to attach blame for this (perhaps a way to avoid facing one's own shortcomings). We contrasted Europeans' guilt and angst at business failure with Americans' readiness to pick up, learn lessons, and move on.</p>
<p>Given that our industry may be facing huge challenges, and that it's inevitable that many titles will &quot;fail&quot;, must we refine our business models now? And, if so, how?</p>
<p>The industry has few leaders, many followers. Retailers require validation of new titles by reference to comparables. Internet selling on both sides of the Atlantic has cut sharply into bricks-and-mortar sales. Title output scarcely pauses. Amazon's Kindle, a wow with some, is scoffed at by Apple's Steve Jobs (misreading statistics), because &quot;people don't read anymore&quot;. There are bigger book stores, carrying more titles, everywhere, and Amazon is an extraordinary boon to backlist publishers. But if stores can't compete with Amazon, how will the big chains cope with high rents and slow-moving, low-value merchandise? How will this affect backlist publishers? Do our opportunities lie in embracing new media and new business models?</p>
<p>I cannot see yet how we will get a return for investing in the digital universe. It's early days, but my reasoning is that for several hundred years, new media have been emerging and drawing content initially from existing media. Any successful new medium creates demand for material that exploits the uniqueness of the new medium. Skills and content aren't readily transferable. If you doubt this, think of the differing skills of book, magazine, and newspaper editors, who necessarily march to different drums.</p>
<p>Looking backwards, book publishing has shown remarkable adaptability, redefining itself as new media (newspapers, weekly magazines, serial publications, movies, radio, TV, and so on) invades its &quot;turf&quot;. These newcomers broke the book's virtual monopoly, appropriating a great deal of revenue and audience.</p>
<p>Is the challenge&mdash;and these are challenging times, irrespective of whether we're in a robust or recessionary economy&mdash;simply to evolve another discrete haven for the book? Or are the prospects for the industry particularly bleak? Are we at the point where, to borrow an analogy from the eco-warriors, we have to wake up, and reinvent our business models entirely? Isn't it, ultimately, a sobering thought that Amazon did not emerge from the book industry?</p>