Publishers were urged to be prepared to take advantage of the increased popularity of e-commerce as well as to be more aggressive in branding their different franchises during a day-long conference held by Market Partners International on October 27 in New York City. Speakers also told attendees that publishers need to do a better job in identifying who their customers are.

David Pearce Snyder, trends analyst and Life Styles editor of the Futurist, estimated that sales via the Internet will total $6 billion this year and could reach $300 billion by 2002. He observed that use of the Internet is doubling every 100 days and that people are getting more comfortable conducting transactions over the Web.

On another hot electronic publishing issue, e-books, Snyder said the new generation of machines being introduced this fall are "vastly superior to what has been introduced up to now." Steve Wildstrom, editor of Business Week's Technology and You column, agreed that the new e-books are designed better than their predecessors and praised the technology companies for working with publishers in developing their products. He advised, however, that before e-books can make a significant dent in the marketplace, prices must fall to under $100, the machines need to be lighter and the battery life has to be longer.

Speakers in the afternoon session agreed that because consumers are offered so many options in today's market, publishers should increase their use of branding to make their products stand out. Paul Bennett, cofounder of The Plant, told attendees that when developing a branding strategy they should remember that "consumers are looking for things that are relevant to their lives.... You need to tap into a need." Bennett added that a strong brand "transcends the product" and urged publishers, when possible, to think in terms of developing global brands to take advantage of economies of scale. Alex Jutkowitz, founder of the Global Strategy Group, explained that while it's not possible to brand an entire publishing house, it is possible to brand imprints and authors. According to Jutkowitz, before publishers launch a branding or advertising campaign, they should engage in market research to help determine were they can most effectively spend their limited resources.

Joseph Esposito, founder of Tribal Voice, argued that publishers have lost some of their power in the publishing supply chain to authors/agents and retailers. He proclaimed that "the most important person in the industry today is Len Riggio," explaining that Barnes &Noble, as well as other major chains, have much better information about who their customers are than publishers. To help publishers regain some of their clout, Elliot Ettenberg, chairman of Bozell Direct, said that publishers must get a better grasp on what kind of books their customers want and build brands that will achieve customer loyalty. He also warned that publishers may be vulnerable to the trend of "getting rid of the middleman" in today's distribution environment. "Will the day come when a brand author sells via the Web," without a publisher? Ettenberg asked. To ensure their survival, publishers need to add value to the publishing process.

In an earlier panel, Jill Cohen of QVC assured the audience that while the shopping channel is beginning to develop its own publishing program, it "will never stop selling other publishers' books."