It's crisis. Yes, still. When it will end? Nobody knows. Although, according to Bernard Wientjes of the Dutch labour union VNO-NCW, the crisis will end on 1 January 2016. Right… From previous crises, or attenuated variants thereof, the book world experienced little to no problems. Books are traditionally sold mostly to people who have a bit more to spend. You can at least clearly state that the largest group of book buyers is not on the lower end of the income level. But this time around, we do suffer from it, and this is shown by the downward trend in book sales for some years in a row now.
But once we get out of this crisis, and we will (you just can’t attach a fixed date to it), the world will have changed even more than it already has. And I do not think the decreased revenue from book sales will automatically rebound (assuming we keep doing what we are doing now). We'll have to think of something else.
The changing spending pattern is not the only factor to consider in this. We also face direct competition from other media. Bookstores are no longer the gatekeeper of the book. Just about a decade ago, if you wanted to buy a book, you went to the bookstore. And if they didn’t have it? You would let the bookseller order it, chose a different title or simply leave it by that. Now you can buy books anywhere: from a bookstore to the supermarket, from the gas station to a webshop, or from the iBookstore to Kobo. The advantage is, that books are now much more widely available, and that it has become much easier to buy them. The downside is, that books are no longer the only product sold in many of these stores. Amazon started as merely an online bookstore. But by now it seems almost to have become a hobby next to all the electronics, toys and garden tools that shout out for everyone's attention.
And attention is one of the key words for the future. A future that starts right after reading this column. Advertising has had its day. At this moment in time, we get an advertising incentive fired at us every eleven seconds. With as a result, that everyone now zaps, skips and blocks all these incentives and the advertiser does not achieve its goal with it. If we want our books to reach the consumer, we will have to earn their attention. This requires a completely different approach in our marketing. But this goes not only for our marketing. More importantly perhaps, is the communication of the brand (the publisher) to the reader, and vice versa. We will have to learn how to get the consumer’s attention, how to keep it, and how to start a dialogue with them. This means listening, answering, talking back, being part of the discussion, learning from them, refine it and try again. And this change will be much tougher than you think. It goes far further than merely creating a social media account and traditionally send your promotions (and doing nothing more than just that).
But don’t lose yourself in just this. Because our legs are being cut from the other side as well. I previously wrote about the different forms of publishing we now know. A trend which isn’t new, but one that does come with great speed. And that’s something you have to do something with. If you don’t and you stay the same, you are history. Not that you must do something completely different, but you do have to start thinking about your value in the transformed domain. What distinguishes you from the rest? And why would an author choose for you and not for one of your competitors, a vanity publisher or do it themselves?
Basically, we will all have to change in a certain way. This starts with the awareness of all the changes, but most certainly as well with changes in our business operations. On both the side customer as the authors, we will have to exchange our certainties for new strategies, expertises and processes. Which these are and how we should deploy them exactly? That is still unknown. But the one question that everyone will have to answer is: can you change?