Saturday, May 23, 2009

Re-structuring firm reviews Borders porfolio

As Waterstones plan to launch a new and improved website, speculation is rife regarding the future of rival Borders, who according to a report in yesterday's Independent, have been working with RSM Bentley Jennison to review a range of potential restructuring options.

One suggestion is the closure of the company's less profitable stores, mostly those on out of town retail parks, of which last time I looked, there were many. I have always felt that this was one of the company's weak points, since most shoppers visit these out of town sites to buy much larger items such as furniture and electrical goods; smaller items such as books lend themselves better to the High Street as they tend to be impulse buys.

Majority stakeholder Luke Johnson, former boss of Channel 4 who bought the business in 2007 refused to comment, as did Tony Stockdale, National Managing partner of RSM Bentley Jennison.

From what I understand, admittedly reading between the lines, the company has been in trouble for some time, and to be honest, I am surprised that they are even still trading. The more profitable stores have evidently been carrying the less profitable ones for some time, and as with my former employer, this can no longer continue, as it is not good business sense.

There have been several closures in recent months, including stores in Lakeside and Croydon, and most of the company's airport stores. The inventory currently consists of some 28 Borders, 2 Borders Express and 7 Books Etc. Speculation has been rife for several months following concerns over credit insurers and the company's exposure to Icelandic banks. All rumours have been consistently denied.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

POD takes the lead in the US

Just to prove David Taylor's point (see yesterday's post), for the first time, the number of print on demand titles published in the US has overtaken the number of traditionally printed lithograhic texts, according to bibliographic provider Bowker.

The amount of new books entering the US market decreased in 2008 by 3.2 percent, with a total of 275,232 new titles and editions, down from the 284,370 titles published in 2007. In contrast, Bowker reports that 285,394 'on demand' books were produced last year, representing a 132 percent increase over last year's figure of 123,276 titles. This is the second consecutive year of triple digit growth for the print on demand industry, driven largely by the surge in self publishing. I can see now why Amazon were so keen to expand their own operations.

This represents a huge benchmark for the American publishing industry. Although it remains to be seen whether this is a trend that will continue, I strongly suspect that it will. It would be naive to suggest that this was entirely down to self publishing, as more and more traditional publishers are also embracing POD for their back lists and niche titles, but this is a significiant turning point for the industry that seems so reluctant to accept self published books. It it not easy for such writers here to gain acceptance, and I have had to fight for every inch of press coverage and shelf space that my book has attained, but from what I understand from speaking to American writing friends, things there are even more difficult.

It proves though that print on demand is here to stay, whether the industry likes it or not. It is an undeniable fact that the growth that we see in this sector has been fuelled by the changing dynamics of the market place, with the balance of power shifting from publishers back to the authors. Authors increasingly realise that there is an easier way to market than to go through the endless cycle of submissions and rejections, waiting for that illusive contract, which even if offered, may not offer any more financial renumeration or help with marketing than if you had self published in the first place.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't knock it 'til you have tried it

A week or so ago, Tracy Baines, one of the members of the Writers News Talkback forum of which I am a member posted asking those who had self published to contact her with a view to being interviewed for her blog. I was one of several who responded, and my interview has now gone live. It can be read here.

Print on demand - the industry's saving grace

The blog of literary agent and author advocate Richard Curtis has an interesting article today regarding print on demand and how it could prove to be the publishing industry's saving grace, something that I have stated for a long time.

What he has to say makes interesting reading, for he suggests that contrary to popular belief, there is nothing wrong with the publishing industry, despite its current decline, that a different form of distribution would not solve. The different form of distribution that he proposed has nothing to do with wholesalers, but is rather, a different printing method - namely, print on demand.

To those who are not in the know and do not understand why this would be so, it may seem like an extravagant statement, but the reasoning behind it will be clear to those who understand how it works, and there are some statistics to back this theory up, recorded in an interview conducted by Liz Thompson for Bookbrunch, with David Taylor, President of Lightning Source in the UK, the largest print on demand operation in the world. Lightning Source have printed 70 million books in the ten years since their operations began, and their facilities in Tennessee and Pennsylvania hold almost one million digital files.

While the rest of the industry is in the doldrums, Taylor claims that their business has grown by 20 to 30 percent in the last six months alone. Lightning Source print, bind and ship 10,000 books each day on machines that run around the clock. At their plant in Milton Keynes, they are building new, improved facilities the size of a football pitch. Lightning Source continues to thrive at a time when the industry is reeling from an epidemic of returns, with a system based on the exact opposite.

As Taylor told his interviewer, "the recession is focusing publishers' minds on cash, on the amount of inventory they have sitting in warehouses, on the cost of transporting stock. Most global publishers in the academic and STM (scientific, technical and medical) markets are saying they want to get out of inventory, and some pretty radical discussions are now taking place which will allow publishers to do just that. Believe me, it's an exciting time to be part of the business."

The most obvious solution to this problem is not to print so many books in the first place, and to ensure that those that are printed are sold - the best way to ensure that both of these happen is through print on demand, for you know that the books that are printed have already been sold.

In the future Taylor sees the creation of vast digital warehouses, which are in essence a network of servers containing vast archives of POD files linked to Espresso machines, which Blackwells are currently trailing in their Charing Cross store. These are like miniature print on demand machines (known as ATM's for books) that enable books to be printed and bound in a matter of minutes, the time it takes to have a cup of coffee, hence their name.

There is no reason in the future, why such machines should be confined to book shops; they could be set up anywhere, and could be particularly beneficial in developing countries that do not have the same infrastructure and distribution channels in place that we do in the west.

The full article can be read here.

Curtis also provides a useful and interesting link to You Tube where you can see the Espresso Machine in action.