For my money, Penguin have always led the way in design based creativity in the publishing industry. They are one of the very publishers to have actively cultivated and developed their brand for the reader. Their cover design and visual style can always be relied upon for originality and elegance, particularly with respect to series and backlist publishing. The Great Ideas series (designed by David Pearson) is a perfect example of taking backlist and re-presenting in a fresh original and compelling way (and spawned a number of spin-offs from Penguin and imitations from other publishers). What’s more, this kind of approach is an object lesson in how high design standards can pay off in commercial success.
And now Penguin are revivifying another of their backlist strands with this beautiful piece of online excellence. What I love about this most is that plays to the heart of what I think the core business of the publisher, telling the story of the story in as compelling a manner as is possible. To sell stories, we need to capture reader’s imaginations before we can prise open their wallets.
In this case the story telling is a marriage of old school elegance made possible and amplified creative technology. Brilliant.
In the future publishing will not be judged by how it puts books (in print or digitally) on bookshop shelves, but how good it is at telling and propagating, the story of the story. And it will need morepeople with this kind of creative approach to making stories and images that cut through to be successful.
But audits and house moves aside there’s too much going on today not to comment a little. And of course it’s all about Amazon, Apple and agency. Ostensibly this is an anti-trust case focused on the agency sales model implemented by Apple and the 5 main US publishers. But the stakes are what make the case really important. And what is at stake is the future no less of the book industry eco-system itself.
With bricks and mortar book retail declining rapidly in influence and Amazon’s market share now becoming pivotal, it may be that High Noon is approaching. If the US Department of Justice wins its case then the reputational and commercial damage to publishing could mark a seismic shift in the industry that places Amazon firmly in the driving seat.
So here’s a quick round-up of the issues and the responses. First an excellent precis of the issue from Laura Hazard Owen at Paid Content. John Sargent CEO of Macmillan responds here and John Makinson of Penguin here. A copy of the filing can be found here, and this is a good analysis of it from Philip Jones at The Bookseller.
A quickfire post. I spent an hour yesterday at a literary festival session entitled ‘Are we the last real book readers?’. One of the contributors asked: ‘Have you ever read so much about reading?’. Quite.
Now here’s some more. Rightly the sites following the progress of the book industry are alight with the news of the US Department of Justice investigation into price fixing through the agency agreements. Good articles here at Paid Content and here at the Atlantic.
I need a little more time to think about this, but my feeling is that this is not a simple choice between price fixing or free markets. This is a matter of an entire book ecosystem that is far more fragile than we may realise even now.
But it would seem that not everyone goes along with the genius of Amazon’s business model. An interesting contra take from @firstadopter who questions the underpinning financial model of their shipping business and their digital positioning. I seem to remember that Jason Epstein in his The Book Business raised questions as to the viability of the maths of mail order bookselling. I must dig it out and see if it corresponds to @firstadopter’s critique. The article is worth reading and checking. given the amount of resource it must have required to penetrate the market thus far, it is not inconceivable that Amazon might overeach. To be watched.
I do agree with @firstadopter’s views on the Kindle Fire and ereaders in general. I’d like a dedicated ereader, but I don’t need one. I’m sure its a better reading experience but the iPad is a more than good enough reader (as is my phone) and it does way more. If I’m slimming down my life for convenience why do I need yet another gadget and its accoutrements? And the iPad has set the bar for the experience, why would I want a poor cousin?
The big threat perhaps is not ereaders but the fact that if I have a gadget that combines music, film and books then I will be tempted sorely to get my fix of story from some other medium entirely. We might read less because its handier, easier and (in some senses at least) richer to watch and listen.
(Hat-tip to Joe Esposito for the cue-in on the @firstadopter article)
Finally, I retweeted this over the holidays, but reading it again there’s much food for thought in an article by Stephen Page on the Guardian that looks at the history of publishing and segues that into a view of the future for 2012. Two money quotes:
There’s a riot of cross-dressing going on; a scramble as roles are redefined by usefulness, not legacy.
The demonstrable creation of value and the fair sharing of it. Publishers exist to create value and audience for writers, and this needs to be at the centre of all publishing endeavours.