Solving Problems That Pre-Date Browsers

Yesterday, Digital Book World featured a guest post by Chris Rechtsteiner, chief strategist for Blue Loops Concepts, that tried to characterize what is going on right now in the world of book publishing.

His piece, “Booksellers v. libraries? Publishers v. Amazon? These are the wrong battles to fight” makes a good point: “the real competition for booksellers, publishers and libraries is NOT READING” (the all caps belongs to Rechtsteiner; I prefer italics).

Rechtsteiner calls on booksellers, libraries, authors and publishers to collaborate to solve the problems that lead people to choose options other than reading for their leisure-time activities. I have to agree, going back to part of what I wrote in “The opportunity in abundance“:

I called the prospect of people not engaging with our content the publishing manifestation of a super-threat.  I’d argue (pretty strongly) that it represents a super-threat not just to publishing, but to the way we function as a country, an economy and as a part of a world order. We have a responsibility to address this threat, not just so that we can make money, but because we’re the ones with the ability to solve it.

So why did I title this piece “not helping”?

Well, Rechtsteiner mixes data (library patrons are more likely to buy eBooks) with hyperbole (they represent the biggest short-term threat to eBook sales through Amazon and others). His data (drawn from Bowker and Pew) is powerful, but misapplied: if the availability of free books was such a threat, why have publishers and libraries co-existed for so long?

If that were my only concern, I’d have found something else to write about today. But Rechsteiner claims that four months ago, “it mattered if libraries were or weren’t a direct threat to booksellers. Today, this question is irrelevant.”

Why is it irrelevant? Because Rechtsteiner just realized that “people not reading” is a bigger threat.

I really want the many entities in our industry to collaborate, and I am more than on the record about the need to shift our focus from production (of books) to demand for content-driven solutions. The argument is a tough one to make in any environment.

It’s a hard argument to make because “people not reading” is not a four-month-old problem. It’s likely a decades-old problem. The long lead time effectively makes our biggest challenge seem like an input, not a threat. That blocks our ability to change.

Book publishers could learn from the newspaper industry, which had 50 years of experience with declining circulation per capita but blames the 15-plus Internet years for its troubles. We may be working on Internet time, but the problems we are hoping to solve started long before browsers were invented.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.