Fear and Loathing in Frankfurt

fear and loathingAn interesting survey sponsored by the organizers of the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair in October provides some insights into the group mind of publishing industry professionals.  As reported in the Independent Publsher reported the survey asked respondents to identify the specific challenges and threats facing the industry and to predict emerging trends and areas of growth.  Over 1,300 professionals from 86 countries took part. Respondents were predominantly European (85 percent), with 9% from North America and all other continents represented roughly equally.

Concerns about digitization were strongest in English speaking countries, with 71 percent of North Americans, 77 percent of Australasians and 68 per cent of UK respondents rating this challenge as the most important.

Respondents rated the following as the biggest threat to the publishing industry today:

  1. Competition from other media and sources of entertainment (50 percent)
  2. Over-publishing (31 percent)
  3. Proliferation of piracy (23 percent)
  4. Illiteracy levels in both western Europe and the developing world (17 percent)

Who is actually steering the book industry today, making the decisions that make publishing successful and generate the bestsellers?  The survey finds that 37 percent felt that publishers were still key to the success of the industry. Marketing professionals, at 31 percent, were not far behind. 22 percent see the consumer as leading the demand for books — only 8 percent felt that authors drive the industry.

Finally, the industry was asked where the major areas of growth are for the industry in the coming years.

  1. 44 percent of respondents identified the use of e-books
  2. 41 percent identified audiobooks, many of which are now available as downloads
  3. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, 27 percent of respondents saw books in translation (much of the business of the Frankfurt Book Fair) as a growth area.
  4. 27 percent identified educational publishing

You can view the entire survey on the Frankfurter BuchMesse site

So what should we make of all this?  The bogey men identified in the survey seem to be the usual suspects.  With the new year looming, I will make my own predictions:

  • More publishing will not undermine the market for books.  To the contrary, it will expand it into new areas.  Though the market will continue to fragment into ever finer niches and sub-niches, we will find ever more efficient ways to aggregate the fragments. 
  • e-books will continue to in sales, but like audio books, will remain a small part of the overall publishing market.
  • The printed book, far from being eclipsed bydigital media, will become a type o digital media itself – think e-paper and conductive ink – and attain a new coolness factor.
  • The hand-wringing over literacy will turn out to be misguided, much as each generation’s hand-wringing over evolving language usage patterns of younger generations. 
  • Authors will become more important than publishers and the various elements of the traditional book marketing machine.  Savvy authors will use the Internet both as a vehicle to build an audience while they develop their work, and  as a tool to generate low cost, but highly effective market buzz and book sales.
  • During the next decade or two, we will see the end (or the substantial diminshing) of physical book distribution and the end of book returns.  In combination with better analytics for selecting and managing titles, this will make book publishing a highly profitable business. 

FDRI believe the future for books and publishers is much brighter than many of our colleagues who filled out the survey in Frankfurt.  Unlike many industries, publishing is limited only by the human imagination.  As for our fears about the challenges that face us – FDR said it best; the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

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