Peter Skarzynski, founder of the consulting firm Strategos, warned publishers not to "underestimate the rate of change" that's occurring around them. Publishers need to "guard against being inflexible" and should "think like an outsider" to build new perspectives about their businesses. He urged publishers to challenge orthodoxy, understand trends and discontinuities, and to identify unarticulated needs.
His advice came at last week's joint AAP annual meeting/ PW Summit. The meeting, sponsored by R.R. Bowker, drew approximately 300 people to New York City's Marriott Marquis hotel.
Ingram Book Group president Jim Chandler examined how changes in consumer expectations have redefined the industry and affected the way Ingram does business. Twenty years ago, Chandler noted, bookstores stocked about 25,000 titles and special orders took six weeks.
In 2005, superstores stock more than 100,000 titles and millions of new and used books are available online. To meet the needs of its customers, Ingram now stocks more than one million titles and, in response to the growing direct-to-consumer trend, it shipped more than five million packages to customers in the period from February 2004 to February 2005.
Pat Tierney, global CEO of Harcourt, said elhi publishing is still a good business, with relatively high margins (about 20%) and price elasticity. In order to maintain the health of the business, Tierney said, publishers need to change their business model—before outside forces do it for them. School publishers are shifting their marketing approach from selling a "grab bag" of products to offering schools more integrated learning solutions, Tierney said. The elhi market "could get ugly if we don't" get ahead of the curve," Tierney cautioned.
Deborah Dugan, president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, spoke about the importance of thinking of books as content. Publishers' content is still relevant to kids, she said, "not just in book form. Kids expect content to be served up in many ways."
Borders chairman Greg Josefowicz touched on some buying patterns at his company's stores. He noted that 50% of purchases are made by customers for someone else, and that two-thirds of customers enter a store without a specific product in mind to buy. Eighty percent of customers ask for help, Josefowicz said. His most encouraging statistic was that about 20 million people will enter the prime book-buying age—over 45—in the next several years.
The meeting's afternoon panel, moderated by PW editor-in-chief Sara Nelson, included a surprise warning from Art Spiegelman about the possibility of the collapse of the booming graphic novel market. The comics market has a "history of fads," Spiegelman said, and he worries that in 2007, publishers could see graphic novels as "so 2005."
Author Neil Gaiman picked up that theme, explaining that some publishers are releasing graphic novels with little regard to content. "You can't randomly publish graphic novels and expect to do well," he said. Despite their caveats, Spiegelman and Gaiman were both thrilled with the growing acceptance of graphic novels by booksellers and librarians, with Spiegelman describing comics "as the gateway drug to reading."
Tokyopop president John Parker was unabashedly bullish about the future of the "new delivery system" that is graphic novels. But he, too, noted that as graphic novels and manga gain more shelf space, "customers are becoming more discriminating" because of the variety of choices now available.
In accepting the Mary McNulty Award for service to school publishing, Peter Jovanovich recalled that, despite an extraordinary 32-year publishing career, as he was being prepared for double-lung transplant surgery, his thoughts didn't turn to synergy, thinking outside the box "or even Len Riggio," but to his wife and family.