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Change Is The Only Constant In Today's Publishing Industry

Dec 27, 2012
Originally published on December 27, 2012 9:40 pm

The publishing industry has been in flux for years. First chain stores, then Amazon, then e-books — many forces have combined to create dramatic change in the traditional publishing model.

Mike Shatzkin is the founder and CEO of the publishing industry consulting firm Idea Logical. He says one of the biggest changes happening in publishing right now is the planned merger of two of the biggest players in the field, Penguin and Random House — with whispers of further mergers to come.

Already, there's a lot of debate about what that kind of consolidation will mean for the industry. Shatzkin tells NPR's Audie Cornish that the size of the merged company will give it the clout — and the backlist — to create book sales anywhere it wants to. Even the corner drugstore might have a real bookstore — filled, of course, exclusively with Penguin and Random House titles, not just a rack of pulp paperbacks.

"Another way they might create additional distribution is through a subscription, e-book subscription service," he says. "Before Random and Penguin merged, no single publisher would have had enough of the most commercial titles to make something like that work. They might. So they may be able to create distribution channels that are extra, compared to what we have now, and proprietary, in that other publishers won't be able to get at them."

Digital platforms are another big trend right now — websites where authors can publish their work and connect with their readers. Shatzkin says children's publishers have been making good use of platforms. "For example, Scholastic, which has fabulous reach into schools, through teachers, is creating an e-book reading platform called Storia," he says.

Storia will be a complete environment, providing services for the purchase and reading of e-books and tools for parents and teachers to oversee their kids' reading. "So if a parent or teacher get a kid reading on Storia, you're not going to be able to get a book to that kid except through Storia. And Storia's not the only platform of its kind ... and what that means is that power transfers to the platform owner from the individual title or author."

But what about the readers who don't want to sign up with a platform to get their favorite authors? "I think we've already had that experience," Shatzkin says. "Twenty years ago, much more than today, there were people that chose their books from what Book-of-the-Month Club offered them. And Book-of-the-Month Club did not offer them books that were Literary Guild main selections, because they didn't have rights to them. And in fact, in a more subtle way, people shop from what's inside a bookstore. What's inside a bookstore is a small percentage of the total number of books available."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now that we've heard about some current opportunities that e-books offer publishers, we're going to explore what's coming in the near future. We asked Mike Shatzkin to help us out with that. He's the founder and CEO of a publishing industry consulting company called Idea Logical. We begin by talking about one of the big looming stories in the business: the planned merger of publishers Penguin and Random House, which Shatzkin says is huge.

MIKE SHATZKIN: One publisher up till now could not essentially create a bookstore in a drugstore. They wouldn't have enough titles that mattered in order to be able to do that. But Random House and Penguin between them might. Another way they might create additional distribution is through a subscription, an e-book subscription service. Before Random and Penguin merged, no single publisher would have had enough of the most commercial titles to make something like that work. They might.

CORNISH: So is there any chance I might come across a store in the future that sells only books from Penguin-Random House?

SHATZKIN: You will come across stores that will sell books from only Penguin-Random House, but they won't be bookstores. They will be stores that have a little book department that is perfectly adequately serviced for most people purposes by Penguin and Random House.

CORNISH: Now there's another bit of jargon that gets thrown around when people talk about the digital transition in publishing, and that's platforms. And you suggested that new platforms could be a big topic in the coming year. What exactly do you mean by that in plain speak? What kind of platforms are we talking about?

SHATZKIN: What has really caught my attention in platforms is what's going on in children's books. If you want to capture the audience for children's books, then you have to make an environment for reading them that teachers and parents endorse.

So, for example, Scholastic, which has fabulous reach into schools, through teachers, is creating a e-book reading platform called Storia. And Storia is a complete environment - that is, you can find books and ultimately purchase them through Storia, and they provide tools to help parents and teachers oversee their kids' reading.

So if a parent or teacher get a kid reading on Storia, you're not going to be able to get a book to that kid except through Storia. And Storia's not the only platform of its kind. "Reading Rainbow," which is a longstanding television show, has a platform called RRKidz.

Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are trying to make their Nook and Kindle platforms parent-friendly, giving parents control so that parents will encourage the kids to do all the reading through the platform. And what that means is that power transfers to the platform owner from the individual title or author.

CORNISH: Is there any indication that readers might not like that? I mean, one of the joys of having a book is it doesn't matter what bookstore you get it from. You know, it still works. The book still works.

SHATZKIN: Well, I think you're certainly right that - I mean, obviously there'll be readers that won't join the platforms, and I'm not trying to suggest in any way that they would suddenly have a majority of the readers. But...

CORNISH: But as a reader, would you suddenly then say, I guess I'm never going to get to read a book from this author or that author just because I don't want to join such and such a platform?

SHATZKIN: Well, I think we've already had that experience. You know, 20 years ago, much more than today, there were people that chose their books from what Book of the Month Club offered them. And Book of the Month Club did not offer them books that were Literary Guild main selections because they didn't have rights to them.

And, in fact, in a more subtle way, people shop from what's inside a bookstore. What's inside a bookstore is a small percentage of the total number of books available. Now it's true that some people go to Barnes & Noble once a week. And if they want something that they're not finding there, they can go online at bn.com or Amazon and look through a wider selection. But I think a lot of people shop however they shop, and choose from what's available to them when they shop. And I think people will make that choice and some of them will make it around platforms.

CORNISH: Mike Shatzkin is founder and CEO of a publishing industry consulting company called Idea Logical. Mike Shatzkin, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SHATZKIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.