5 renowned book industry organizations team up, with support from Creative Europe, to disseminate market insights and practical learnings about novel approaches in publishing.

Logo http://SIDT-books.eu

Apply now for the SIDT innovation training modules

The SIDT initiative – standing for “Sustaining and Innovating cultural Diversity in literary Translations” – introduces a pilot project for professional trainings to small and medium sized independent publishers, distributors, and retailers across Europe.

These actors often spearhead translations of new literary voices across Europe. But in an increasingly competitive market for cultural media, including books, making such cultural diversity work commercially, too, has become a challenge to many stakeholders.

Literature needs to be catered to multiple niche audiences, in print and digital, across various distribution channels, and marketed through dedicated communities of readers. This requires venturing into innovative business and delivery practices, driven by digital tools and platforms.

Overall, 4 different training modules of around 10 to 12 hours each will be offered to interested practitioners, first between April and June 2021, and then a second time in the autumn of this year. Topics will range from “digitization of the publishing workflow”, and “radical innovation” approaches, to “user-centric marketing” and “new business models”, notably in publishing operations specializing in translated fiction.

Each module will introduce a group of around 20 to 25 trainees to market overviews and practical case studies, elements of innovative business practices and hands-on group work. Experienced industry practitioners will act as trainers, together with professional moderators.

Participation in the modules is free but subject to submitting an application with a detailed questionnaire and a motivational letter, available (with more details on the project and the modules) at www.sidt-books.eu; the project management board will retain the final decision on applications.

SIDT is a joint initiative of Beletrina Academic Press, Ljubljana, Slovenia, the Federation of European Publishers, Brussels, Belgium, the Fundación Germán Sánchez Ruipérez, Madrid, Spain, Lietuvos Leidėjų Asociacija (Lithuanian Publishers’ Association), Vilnius, Lithuania, and Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, Vienna, Austria, as a project coordinator.

The project is co-funded under the Creative Europe programme by the European Commission.

Contact and information:
SIDT Books
info@sidt-books.org

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The season’s first workshop in the “ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading” on 25 Feb 2021 took off with promises of a wild ride between some countries and segments where the book trade significantly expanded, driven by an increase in reading, while other markets and segments of the industry had to confront loss and swings in consumer habits.

Print book sales in Germany, Austria and Swiss 2011 to 2020 (data by MediaControl, analysis Ruediger Wischenbart.

Print book sales in Germany, Austria and Switzerland 2011 to 2020 (data by MediaControl, analysis Ruediger Wischenbart Content and Consulting).

In Sweden, publishers recorded gains in revenue of 8.7% in 2020 – and a stunning surge of +21.5% in (mostly digital) units. For the first time digital overtook physical sales, and most of digital turnover was earned through audiobook subscriptions.

The USA saw 9% more copies shipped, while revenues stayed flat with +0.8%. The real drama however required to go into the details, as online sales surged by +43% in 2020, bringing print books up +8.2% in revenue, and ebooks +12.6%, while physical bookstores, drowned by -28.3%.

Germany (-2.3% in book revenue) and France (-4.5%), the two usually boringly robust European markets saw each an up and down along the Covdid-19 year, shaped by lookdowns and closures of bookstores, followed by bold interim recoveries, praised as proof for the resilience of the book sector. But again, a deep rift opened, setting apart the overall market performance from a much more challenged brick and mortar retail sector, where turnover dropped by -8.7% and unit sales even by -12%.

In Poland, unit sales were remarkably robust, but returns fell off quickly, as heavy discounting led to price wars. E-commerce moved mainstream even in countries with a particularly low digital penetration, like Greece.

Overall, the ReBoot workshop provided data and analysis on some 20 different territories all over Europe and the Americas, covering namely Argentina, Austria, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, UK, US, and by industry segment fiction and nonfiction, as compared to children and young adult, as well as by formats and sales channels – notably print, ebooks, audiobooks, e-commerce, and subscriptions, as well as digital library lending.

In many countries publishers found themselves in a stronger position than retailers. Pandemic sales hit hardest the big chain bookstores, while giving some advantages to small independents and, of course, online (or omni channel) shops. Digital library loans soared. Backlist titles gained ground, while front-list – put aside a few blockbusters – saw their share in decline. And in many parts of the industry, new alliances and new fields for experimentation opened.

We are grateful to all participants, and in particular to those sharing their insights and learnings, including Andrew Albanese (US), Johanna Brinton (UK), Carlo Carrenho (BR/SE), Giacomo D’Angelo (IT), Sonia Draga (PL), Michalis Kalamaras (GR), Thad McIlroy (US), Gerson Ramos (BR), Enrico Turrin (BE/EU), and Burcu Ürsin (TR).

A complete video recording of the session, and presentations with rich data and detail, will be made available to all registered ReBoot members in the ReBoot Box.

Register now at www.rebootbooks.org to get your pass offering access to the Box and to the next Reboot events on April 21st and June 15.

We thank our sponsors Media Control and the Austrian Ministry of Culture for their crucial support.

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ReBoot 2021: The Repair Shop. Assessing the damage, and fixing it.

After a widely received first season in fall 2020, with four Preparations Workshops and a 6-hour state of the industry debate on October 13 – attended by 200 experienced industry leaders from 28 countries in a unique mix of heads of worldwide corporations and small local innovators –, it is time to move on.

In the first half year of 2021, ReBoot proposes a systematic assessment of the damage, based on a rich survey of multiple data sources and intertwined with a structured set of workshops, with the goal of comparing lessons, experiences, and proposed solutions.

ReBoot will focus on how authors, publishers, suppliers, and retailers:

  • Operate in highly dynamic markets, defined by changing consumer habits and mounting competition for consumers’ attention and budgets;
  • Manage seamlessly multiple formats, business and distribution models, while new entrants from other media industries approach the same audiences;
  • Learn to directly target consumers, build sustainable communities around more granular audiences, and attract the best creative talent for books and readers.

The Repair workshop calendar foresees three units of 2-4 hours in the first half year of 2021:

  • 25 FEB 2021: Assessing the damage, and identifying the key lessons for looking forward;
  • 21 APR 2021: How to fix what is broken, and who can offer the best tools for that aim;
  • 15 JUN 2021: Navigating to new islands and sailing with the winds of change.

You can subscribe to all three ReBoot units plus get permanent access to the ReBoot Box, which contains rich and relevant documentation plus video recordings of all sessions, at a flat rate of € 149, or buy tickets for each unit separately at € 99.

We invite sponsors and partners to engage with ReBoot on a continuous basis, with customized cooperation packages starting at € 5,000 for 1HY2021.

Find out about all details, and register right away at www.rebootbooks.org.

Follow us for updates on Twitter at @rebootbooks

You can recap ReBoot in fall 2020 in 3 blogposts:

  • Workshops 01 and 02 (on consumer habits and on hybrid publishing here)
  • Workshops 03 and 04 (on supply chain and on bookselling here)
  • ReBoot: The Conference here.
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At BookExpo in May 2018, a CEO roundtable with, from left, the Association of American Publishers’ Maria A. Pallante, Macmillan’s John Sargent, Simon & Schuster’s Carolyn Reidy, and Penguin Random House’s Markus Dohle. Photo by Porter Anderson, Publishing Perspectives, used by permission

At BookExpo 2018, a publishing “CEO  roundtable” hosted by the Association of American Publishers‘ Maria A. Pallante, had 3 heads of New York Big Five publishing corporations debating the future of the industry. I don’t recall details, but am certain that all three speakers were upbeat.

Two years and a bit later, Carolyn Reidy of Simon and Schuster has passed away, John Sargent has quit Macmillan and Holtzbrinck, and only Markus Dohle is still in his position as CEO of Penguin Random House, and announced just a week ago that his group would pick up Simon and Schuster. Another major American trade and educational publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt stands for sale.

And now, BookExpo, together with its consumer sibling BookCon, the by far largest industry gathering in the US, and the States’ only public platform for welcoming international publishers and other vendors of the book business, has been “retired“, as the press release of Reed Exhibition, the parent company, camouflaged their decision of pulling the plug. (See the summary in Publishing Perspectives)

My personal book fair calender for 2020 saw me packing for London in April, and shortly thereafter for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was considering Leipzig, and would have observed closely Bologna and Paris from afar. Already, I did not plan to attend BookExpo in New York in late May, as I couldn’t anticipate any business for me at the event. Beijing in late August was still undecided. In fall, I obviously planned for Frankfurt, and then Ljubljana in November. I was considering Guadalajara, as my interest in Latin America had seriously increased lately, while working for Cerlalc, the UNESCO partnering organization based in Bogota, Colombia.

None of these events would have any physical presence or attendees, it turned out.

Instead, together with a few friends like Carlo Carrenho and Klaus-Peter Stegen, we decided as early as late April to launch our own, purely digital conference format, ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading, which eventually took place with 4 workshops in September and a 6 hour marathon series of industry debates on October 13, 2020, which normally would have been Frankfurt’s opening day.

I summarize these details not out of nostalgia, nor anticipating any “return to normal” in 2021. Yet I am an optimist. I am confident that the vaccine will have a – hopefully broad, and not limited to the rich countries and mega cities only – impact on our lives and businesses.

I am fairly confident that the book business overall will cope, and adapt – which is synonymous to ‘deeply transform‘ – in the course of the pandemic. But I am also convinced that the same may not necessarily apply to book fairs. At least those in North America and in large parts of Europe, plus Japan. For all the rest of the world, this is a different story, which I’ll address another time.

There surely will be industry gatherings in the future, with actual visitors, with some kind of exhibits, and certainly with receptions and parties, probably as soon as in early summer or fall of next year. But I would wish to be a fly on the wall when a sales representative of Frankfurt or London will call up the person in charge for marketing budgets at Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins – or, very similarly, at Planeta, Bonnier, or German Bastei Lübbe in spring 2021, in the ambition to sell some significant booth space. ‘Best of luck‘, as those hard nosed sales reps would say.

All the big, and many medium sized companies have their finance people right now spending hours and days in home offices and zoom calls to figure out how to slash office space and rent, shift resources into a more de-centralized model of organization, invest – hopefully – heavily in streamlining their workflow and otimize their processes (ERP companies, but also Salesforce/Slack and other will further expand), AND they will be, at the front end of their operations, all about  ‘the consumer‘.

“D2C” – Direct-to-Consumer will be the magic formular for 2021, I am sure.

These moves will fairly quickly result in shifts in companies’ internal power balances, hopefully by just even more strongly separating what, on a day-to-day basis, editorial does, and what the ‘back office‘ does with what editorial is proposing to them – or in return, by drastically re-framing the set-up in which editorial is supposed to do their work.

That swing does not necessarily clip the aisles of good editors in theit creativity. But it may rewrite the overall playbook of book publishing.

To give just one example: Anything more ‘niche‘ may be handed over to some ‘special arms‘ of the organization, or be delegated into new (or already existing) ‘author platforms‘ – as in publisher + Wattpad cooperation deals.

In less fortunate organizations, which will be around too, it will be a new regime that hardly breathes that old air of sniffing out that new genial literary hero who might be a winner of some award half a writing life later.

These are, of course, just a few guesses. But for traditinal book fairs, they carry a few clear lessons. First of all, there is little reason for publishers to spend a fortune on renting huge booth space, add more money for flashy cusomized stand constructions, and send over hald the company staff for a week.

Fairs will be closer to festivals on the one hand, and on the other hand to the more operational, small-table plus hotel-bar-and-dinner-separée type of the rights business. In addition, the ‘industry talks‘ will be hybrid at best, and much debate will be within closed settings– e.g. behind corporate community walls, rather than public.

For the ever more pressing opening up, embracing new ideas, interact with an ever growing number of new comeptition from new entrants and start-ups, this may become a huge problem. For letting in new company talent, the result may be a desaster, really endangering a necessary renewal of the professional book communities.

But, as an optimist, I see all these ‘problems’ mainly as bringing some transformative strains that we all have seen coming already before the virus struck, didn’t we?

With regard to BookExpo, Michael Cader now wrote in his Publishers’ Lunch: “The show itself had diminished for years.” So let’s move on, and make the best of it.

PS: David Unger, of Guadalajara FIL, commented in the Facebook group Publishing without borders: “Rudiger: for many years BEA was running itself into circles and into the ground. It had no identity and changed its focus and format sometimes twice a year. It cannot be compared to other international book fairs that have very clearly defined roles and focuses. I know you agree with me.”

This allowed me to specify, how I would differentiate between 3 types of international book fairs:

 Full agreement on part 1, BEA. Not so sure on part 2, which I would split into a) Frankfurt, London, Bologna, b) Beijing, Sharjah, Guadalajara, Madrid/Barcelona, perhaps Italy Paris, Göteborg and c) the many ‘other’
To a) frankly I see no way back to the old ‘charging high price booth space’ business model for any of that top tier group. No way.
To b) These are different, as hubs for specific, commercially relevant regional markets, plus their price tag is much smaller, due to local subsidies, subsidies to national collective stand models and much more affordable booth spending anyway, so they make more sense perhaps, economically,
To c) an entirely different kind of beasts, either as national show cases of local industries (my domestic Austria being such, or focused on selling books! (All across the Middle East), etc.
So we have a LOT to figure out, I guess.

 

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First and foremost, I have no clue what regulators will say about the purchase. This is not my turf. But I have a couple of observations on the underlying stories in the move of German Bertelsmann group, parent of Penguin Random House, picking up the 1924 founded book publishing jewel, Simon and Schuster, for $2.175 bn.

In terms of turnover, Simon and Schuster is relevant for Penguin Random House (PRH), but certainly not a game changer.  But the relevance lies underneath that surface perhaps.

mEUR mUS$
PRH  €          3.371  $          3.782
Simon  €             726  $             814
Combined  €          4.097  $          4.596
Source: Global 50 World Publishing Ranking 2020
(Data from company reports)
www.wischenbart.com/ranking

#1 An ironic tale

All the sales reports and revenue banked from John Bolton‘s “The Room Where It Happened“, Bob Woodward‘s ” Rage“, and Mary L. Trump‘s “Too Much and Never Enough” will be consolidated, together with earnings from Barack Obama‘s “A Promised Land” in 1745 Broadway, New York City, and then reported to Gütersloh (around 100,000 inhabitants), North Rhine-Westphalia, South-West of Teutoburg Forest, Germany, home of Bertelsmann.

Speaking symbolics, we may see here a reflection on the loss of American supremacy in the globalized cultural footprint.

This does not mean, of course, that some obscure people from German backwaters would direct what is fit to be printed in New York City, certainly not. Even without Simon and Schuster, German PRH revenue accounts for a mere 7% of PRH global, and editorial decisions are made in New York, not Gütersloh, already for many years. But no US power game may have an upper hand under such an umbrella, when already in 2020, well before the deal, any efforts failed in challenging Simon and Schuster’s controversial books on American politics.

So, ‘Simon’ is adopted by ‘Hans’ in a way, rather than married, but Hans and Simon have each a colorful, adult persona already, besides Hans’ clear German roots.

Much more relevant is the second point.

#2 A global strategic bet

Since German Bertelsmann acquired Random House, for $1.8bn in 1998 – back then, as much as today, the world’s largest consumer book publisher, and a strategic expansion that signaled “globalization” to the cozy, national emporiums of books and reading -, a lot of mergers and acquisitions and restructurings took place in the global book business. But the odd riddle of what is the path to success remains unsolved:

Is that consolidation about scale – having more books, more authors, more markets under one company’s clout – or is it about scope – controlling books plus movies plus games plus whatever other form or format for the best exploitation of (‘authors’, or ‘creators’) intelectual property?

Not long ago, the French media empire of Vivendi acquired the country’s second largest book publisher, Editis, in the clear ambition of reading these books first hand, for subsequent cross-media exploitation. Author platforms, from Chinese Tencent Literature to Canadian/global Wattpad launched ‘Studio’ divisions to do just this, turning stories into other formats. Netflix has developed multiple axes to lure (often book) authors to turn stories into TV formats.

Bertelsmann is clearly a multimedia behemoth, with a turnover of over 18 bnEUR coming from TV, books, magazines, music, education, services and print.

But PRH, under its current CEO Markus Dohle, has a 100 percent focus on – books. Fullstop. “A very happy Dohle told PW today was a ‘good day for books, book publishing, and reading.‘” (Publishers Weekly today)

Of course, Dohle includes under ‘books’ any format, print, ebook, audiobook, and distribution model (even as in the latter, he is more restrictive, when it comes to any all-in or digital lending offerings).

But strategically, not just in the actual acquisition of Simon and Schuster, but in a more long term view on consumers, Dohle’s is a bold bet.

Frankly, I like Dohle’s clear and bold stance (against my personal cross-media intuitions) – which is, by the way, mirrored by others throughout the industry internationally, which, by the way, is really under-reported.

Dohle argues that a book is a book and addresses a reader who is a reader (a clear cut target audience to adress – as opposed to any fluid other things). And, to give one example, by initiating right now a big initiative towards Latino reading audiences, in Spanish, Dohle turns this into a very inclusive – and not just exclusive white middle urban class strategy -, which is great!

I am more cautious though, and even deeply worried, how that bold stance of the global book market leader PRH can be translated into a viable formula, all the way down, to the lower levels in the global book and reading ecosystem. We need the many small and mid-sized independent ventures and platforms, beneath the corporations, and in the many small markets and the thematic niches, in order to maintain the diversity in what books – in whatever format – can offer to readers.

So perhaps the book as a “Jack of all trades” format, which can incorporate any story and any piece of knowledge to any audience anywhere, oddly needs at first a good craddle, to develop its many talents, and thereupon go beyond?

At this point, I have no ready made answer, but encourage thinking, and input, and initiatives on that fragile bottom of our industry.

For more details about Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster and the onging consolidation in global publishing, see the Global 50 World Ranking, a 260+ page report with facts, figures, 50 extensive company profiles and analysis, for free download at www.wischenbart.com/ranking – and subscribe to our newsletter to be updated on new research.

Addendum:

Bertelsmann Annual Report 2019
Germany Other Countries Total Operating EBITDA EBITDA in % of revenue Turnover in % of total divisional
RTL 2138 4513 6651 1439 22% 36%
PRH 265 3371 3636 561 15% 20%
Gruner+Jahr 913 442 1355 157 12% 7%
BMG 46 554 600 138 23% 3%
Arvato 1697 2478 4175 549 13% 23%
Printing Group 948 620 1568 68 4% 9%
Education 2 331 333 84 25% 2%
Investments 0 13 13 -1 -8% 0%
Total divisional results 6009 12322 18331 2995 16% 100%
Control 6009 12322 18331 2995 16%
% of German vs int’l 33% 67%
PRH Germany in PRH 7%
PRH + Simon (converted 2019 turnover)  €          4.097

Source: Excerpt from Bertelsmann Annual Report, 2020, analysis by RWCC for this article.

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Two seemingly separate pieces of news came in this morning: The International Pulishers Association released a survey on “Covid-19’s impact on global publishing“, based on a broad roundcall among their members worldwide. And perhaps surprisingly to many observers, the first challenge that the IPA study adressed was NOT bookshop closures due to lockdown – but an article on how “Supply Chain Disruption Leads to Ecosystem Stress“!

Books in a box with a flowerpot ready for delivery

Books in a box with a flowerpot ready for delivery (Photo: Ruediger Wischenbart)

Incidentally, German trade media like Börsenblatt and buchreport reported yesterday that one of the leading scientific publishers, Springer Nature, ditches their German logistics partner KNV Zeitfracht, and switches across the border to the Dutch “Centraal Boekhuis” (CB),  a collaborative initiative owned by some 800 Dutch publishing stakeholders, with a history going back 150 years, and active in both the book and – since a few years – in the health sector.

The IPA report summarized: “Publishers operate in a complex ecosystem with
printers, logistics providers, distributors, and retailers, meaning the supply-chain effects of COVID-19 control measures caused significant supply disruption.

KNV Zeitfracht had indeed drawn criticism recently for underperforming in the strained times of Covid-19 challenges.

But there is a much deeper, and more fundamental underlying issue which gained wider visibility only now.

Under pandemic conditions, with consumers migrating to online and digital purchases, especially smaller independent bookstores suddenly had to rely dramatically on their online capacities for their survival. But many discovered not just limitations in their own digital setup. The challenges were multiple:

  • Ordering books from wholesalers became fragile;
  • Catalogues of titles available for ordering by their clients had many blind spots;
  • Delayed delivery to the costumers required apologies;
  • Wholesalers like KNV in Germany suddenly announced plans to cut down on their traditional service of daily delivery, to just bringing orders to stores only twice a week.

To give just one example from my own customer experience: When I ordered, as a gift to the daughter of friends, a hardcover copy of the English original of the new Stephenie Meyer book “Midnight Sun” – certainly not an exotic title -, the online order was confirmed by my favorite indie bookstore with a note of caution that they couldn’t give me a precise date for delivery, due to supply chain issues.

In return, for a publishing giant like Springer Nature, their market and customer base are global. The Dutch Centraal Boekhuis, Springer Nature said, will take care of all their distribution worldwide. National services alone are simply not good enough anymore.

All these highlighted shortcomings are not only an involontary PR campaign to the advantage of Amazon.com, wich hosts a multilingual, ever expanding catalog of available titles, ready to be served to consumers around the world.

It much more highlights the fault lines of what will shake up the foundations of the book business, in getting their post-pandemic strategies right.

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Music or books? Both! Spotify goes audiobooks
November 13, 2020 by ruediger

Things tend to change quickly these days. In August, publishers across Sweden had a new, transformative customer knocking at their doors – Amazon.

The only surprise was, why that had happened not much earlier. For many years, Amazon had been expected to go into the Swedish online retail market with a dedicated Swedish website, which by now is live.

A few months later, another new entrant is calling, an originally Swedish, now global service for music and podcasts. “Spotify has entered the book industry’s battle for audiobook listeners”, in the word’s of the leading local publishing trade magazine, SVB.

The Spotify announcement is probably as big as the earlier news from Amazon, and not just for Sweden. In these times of profound transformation of everything throughout our societies, the Spotify – audiobook move means simply that an outsider is coming in the ambition to re-invent the one segment where the traditional book business has been growing in recent years, audiobooks.

And Sweden is a very particular market in that regard. It has been pioneering ebooks and audiobooks early on, by making these things different than in other countries. Ebooks were initially an almost exclusive service from libraries. You did not buy an ebook in Sweden, but rented it from your local library.

This opened the path for subscriptions. You don’t need to own that new crime novel, or classic, or educational title. Accessing it, for a modest monthly fee, was good enough.

While in other parts of the world, book people insisted religiously that subscriptions would never work with readers, the Swedish start-up Storytel created  – and in the meantime expanded internatonally – just this, a thriving subscription service for et first ebooks, and then audiobooks. Storyel was one powerful driver, and innovator in the good old book trade.

But the upside-down does not stop there. Spotify, the music company, promises to re-invent the very format of books that you can listen to: “‘We talk about trying to develop the story in different ways, and are quite unlimited in the idea of what it could be’, says Johan Seidefors, Nordic content manager at Spotify, when he is asked if Spotify makes audio books”, SVB reports today, and Seidefors adds that Spotify “will work to make room for new formats.” There you go publishers.

Of course this will bring up many tricky questions, starting with how authors’ compensation will be handled by Spotify, which is challenged regularly for their royalty model from those musicians who are not topping the charts.

And we can, from our own research, clearly predict also that marketing digital works, be they ebooks or, even more so, audiobooks, and again notably those consumed through a streaming or subscription function hugely differently from traditional books. See numbers and charts in our two brand new Digital Consumer Book Barometer studies on German language countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), and on Brazil.

We will keep monitoring these developments – so stay tuned, and subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Twitter @wischenbart and @rebootbooks .

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When around 60% of Brazilians found themselves trapped in isolation for well over a month in March and April of 2020, the result was a significant and lasting raise in digital book consumption, which was especially strong for specific genre categories like fiction, nonfiction (which included educational) as well as children and young adult reading. Other traditionally more relevant genres for ebooks, such as romance or fantasy, had a more modest increase. And most importantly, the raise in digital reading continued once the restrictions had ended.

We witness an astoundingly similar set of transformations in reading habits in both Brazil and Germany, two otherwise deeply different environments for cultural practices, after conducting two studies together with the Brazilian and German teams of digital distributor and aggregator Bookwire. Surprisingly, the clearly different economic and educational differences between the two countries seem less pervasive than the impact of the crisis as an accelerator in an already ongoing digital transformation. (Find free download links at the end of this article)

Marcelo Gioia, Managing Director Brazil, also sees this boost, which has developed into a constantly growing demand, as confirmed by the past few months: “Within a very short time, publishers reacted in March 2020, when the pandemic reached Brazil, with discount campaigns or free products in order to quickly bring variety into the home of the reader with e-books in a lockdown. And it was worth it, because since then volume of sold units in these areas has grown immensely, we are seeing unprecedented growth. What would otherwise have taken two years, this year took just two months“.

Large growth potential for e-books – especially for non-fiction & children’s books

154 % increase in revenues for non-fiction and even 227 % increase for children’s and youth literature, especially during the lockdown period, brought both genres a new level of sold units and turnover from that point on. Supported by strategically planned marketing and/or influencer campaigns, publishers took advantage of the high demand to draw attention to their expertise and catalogue on a permanent basis.

The figures for the fictional categories of romance, crime, thriller or sci-fi, on the other hand, showed the same developments as before the pandemic.

New readers won – and kept

The most lasting effect of the growth during the strict isolation in March and April could be observed in the evaluation of the data until August – because although the growth figures naturally decreased due to further recreational activities that could be offered again, revenues continue to rise – as does the number of readers of digital publications.

For the publishing houses, this means that, in addition to higher volume of sold units, they also achieve significantly higher revenues. Here, too, it is above all the revenues of non-fiction books that have grown the most.

The practical learnings from the analysis will allow publishers, distributors and authors to re-orient their marketing and their distribution strategies, and narrow cast promotion for specific digital titles to specific consumer audiences.

The Covid-19 special report on Brazil builds on the “Digital Consumer Book Barometer” series developed by Wischenbart’s Content and Consulting team in a broad collaborative effort with leading international digital aggregators, notably Bookwire, with whom already in summer, a “Covid-Special” Germany, Austria and Switzerland had been released. Both reports build on real aggregated sales data provided by Bookwire for both Brazil and for the German language markets.

Download the Digital Barometer Covid19 German language markets here, and Brazil here.

All the previous reports in the Digital Consumer Book Barometers series can be downloaded for free from the websites of Bookwire and from www.global-ebook.com, a platform dedicated to data driven analysis of international ebook and digital audiobook markets.

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With 200 participants from 28 countries, the virtual conference “ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading” had its premiere yesterday, Tuesday, October 13, 2020 in the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The aim of the conference with top-class contributions from publishers, book retailers and service providers, in a broad mix of international corporations and small local players, was an international exchange of experiences on book markets in times of pandemic.

The basic tone of the contributions was one of confidence but also of realism. There will be no “return” to market conditions in the book trade from times before the pandemic, but clear outlines for innovative and promising approaches of a new, hybrid publishing business emerged from the crisis in the past six months.

In the remarkable consonance between large and small players from such different markets as Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Great Britain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the USA or India, very similar basic experiences with new approaches were reported.

  • Approaches in which publishers and retailers are redefining end customer business via communities and digital marketing are pioneering;
  • There is significant growth in a wide range of digital offers, such as audio books in streaming, subscription models and – especially local – cooperation platforms;
  • In Covid-19 times, logistics became the predetermined breaking point, when supply and delivery chains were interrupted and now urgently need to be strategically rethought;
  • Thematically, the backlist came to the fore over – often postponed – new releases, which, however, also requires much more precise target group marketing and corresponding data analysis;
  • In the book trade, it is smaller units with less than 500 square meters of retail space in smaller cities that are best able to counter the crisis and the fears of customers.

There is no going back!”said John Ingram from the world’s largest book logistics company Ingram (US), summarizing the assessments.

“However, we are only halfway through the crisis,” warned digital expert David Worlock (UK). The “diversity on the market, between physical and digital offers” is the most important support for stabilization, summed up Jenny Bjuhr Berggren from the Swedish publishing houses Bonnier. Publishers are too attached to their internal perspective, said Nitasha Devasar, CEO India at the science publisher Taylor & Francis, but it is important to bring customers to the center of attention. Nathan Hull of Norwegian Beat Technology proposed concrete strategies and tools for such Business-2-consumer approaches. Michael Busch also followed suit, with reference to the “omnichannel” strategy of his Thalia bookstores, which sell books to customers in every form and through all sales channels.

With the new virtual teamwork, “worldwide collaboration in working groups will become a matter of course,” reported Carmen Ospina, who coordinates business development in the Spanish and Latin American publishers of Penguin Random House. For those who understand how to use these innovations, there is therefore great development potential, Knut Nicholas Krause from the software service provider KNK and Jens Klingelhöfer from the digital aggregator Bookwire were optimistic.

Recordings of the ReBoot virtual conference, four preparatory workshops and detailed documentation will also be available online at www.rebootbooks.org from the middle of next week (October 20).

The event “ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading” is an initiative by Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting (Austria), Carlo Carrenho (Sweden and Brazil) and Klaus-Peter Stegen (Germany.

ReBoot is supported as sponsors by KNK, Bookwire and Beat Technology.

Further ReBoot activities are in preparation.

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Summary from reBoot workshops Suppliers and Bookselling

Navigating through pandemic publishing land often requires confronting tricky conflicts of interest, as we learned throughout the four workshops in the ReBoot Preparations Tracks.

When the lockdown started in Poland, for instance, the leading book chain Empik started to give away learning materials for free. “We opposed that”, said Sonia Draga, founder of the eponymous trade publisher Grupa Wydawnicza Sonia Draga, and the new president of the Polish Chamber of Books. But in the end, she added, we could indeed win over new customers whom we had not reached before.

Reaching new customers for books through digital – in online sales, digital communities and marketing campaigns – and the resulting push for digital innovation turned out to be a strategic key topic across most workshop debates, with similar conclusions from New York to Athens, from Warsaw to Rio de Janeiro, and from big retail chains like Germany’s Thalia to small independent publishers and booksellers all around.

Understanding the dynamics that result from the turmoil in markets over the past half year clearly requires to analyze often contradictory details, explained Paulo Oliveira of Portugal’s “Bertrand” book chain (the world’s oldest bookstore, founded in 1732):

Portugal saw a 70-day long lockdown, and a breakdown of tourism, which led to bookshops loosing between 80 and 90% of sales. Even after reopening, due to distancing requirements, volume sales were still down -25.5% in volume and -28.3% in revenue. But significant additional turnover from ecommerce, and cutting expenses during the lockdown, resulted in an EBITDA “which was very good”, Oliveira concluded.

Germany’s Thalia chain had put a strategic focus on introducing an “omni-channel” approach well before the Covid-19 crisis had begun, recalled Birgit Hagmann, the company’s head of digital. Within days, teams put all their efforts behind online, creating a new landing page at once, re-focusing on new thematic categories like children’s books and ‘be at home’ books, from cooking to entertainment. And most notably, Thalia created a Buy Local portal that was open for any other bookseller, to join the marketing platform as a partner. In the end, 4,000 stores of all kinds had connected, even direct competitors.

“We could offer good customer service”, Hagmann explained, “and when you can offer first class customer service, all the way to delivery – from bicycle riders to click & collect – your customers will reward this with their loyalty.”

New customer preferences included a sudden shift from new titles to backlist, commented Brian O’Leary (Book Industry Study Group, BISG, New York), pointing to a statement from Markus Dohle, CEO of Penuin Random House, who revealed that 8 of his house’s 10 top bestselling titles in 2020 were backlist! Unsurprisingly, a majority in the ReBoot workshop confirmed similar patterns from their markets.

A common baseline was echoed with more practical details and case studies by Nitasha Devasar (head of Taylor & Francis, India), Fernando Pascual (from the indie bookshop “El Sótano”, Mexico), Hernán Rosso (Big Sur Distributor in Argentina and Chile) or Mauro Tosca (Messagerie and Gruppo editoriale Mauri Spagnol, Italy) and many others.

The new ‘best practices’ generated an unexpected virtuous circle, starting at first with improvisation, which leads to learning and to innovation. Its steps include collaboration > omni-channel > gaining entirely new customers by giving away some content > adding new businesses after the lockdown > understanding the drivers of change by analyzing closely experiences and data > develop novel approaches that often result in new collaborations and new hybrid strategies like omni-channel and related combinations of physical and digital business practices.

Managing such a virtuous circle however, and bringing it to fruition, is all but a given. It requires

  • State of the art technical tools and processes, to generate and maintain a workflow that can handle such complex processes;
  • Smart teams who are prepared to try out (and learn) new business practices; and
  • A vision that understands to seamlessly combine physical and digital, omni-channel, direct-to consumer and user communities.

“Technology needs to be resilient and adaptable”, was a key recommendation from KNK’s Jason Spanos (KNK is a sponsor of ReBoot). The phrase willfully echoed a compliment given by book people often to their professional community, to highlight how strongly they resisted the drama of the past half year.

Resilient technology means that it must easily adjust to new requirements, new challenges, new everyday practices. How would you otherwise change your ecommerce overnight, transform your portfolio of products, and allow at once new forms of fulfillment! “At KNK, we started with ERP”, Spanos added, “but in the meantime, many other things have come up in the customers’ journey, pushing borders.” He reminded us that 20 years ago, when digital started to come into play, it was seen as a “cost factor”, while today it has “become part of a company’s culture”.

The point was shared by Nathan Hull of the Norwegian Beat Technology start-up, which – in the words of Hull allows the publisher to finally engage efficiently in a D2C (direct-to-consumer) strategy and own the customer relationship”, regardless if a book is digital or physical, sold one unit at a time or via subscription services. (Beat.no is a sponsor of ReBoot).

In his White Paper for ReBoot, Hull argues: “Part of this control comes in the form of access to usage data, the gold dust formed from the platforms’ users’ usage habits. Currently, and for the most part, retailers only report two main factors back to publisher: units sold and revenue. Yet, they’re sat on and exploiting a goldmine of information for themselves, all farmed from the sales of publishers’ titles. For subscription services this goldmine is even deeper.“

In two subsequent case studies, the value of automated processes and a platform and professional community approach have been exemplified in much detail.

Hans-Joachim Jauch, founder of Calvendo, a publisher of personalized picture books and calendars, explained how he is handling 400,000 individual products from order by a customer to curation of the submitted content to production and distribution with a staff of just six employees an.

Jon Malinovski, founder of the rights trading platform PubMatch, shared observations how canceled international book fairs resulted in a surge of buyers of rights in his online community – who in the past would have relied on face-to-face meetings in a physical rights center. “Bologna was the first book fair to come”, Malinovski recalled, “and we had just 3 weeks to set up 500 publishers and agents and upload 20,000 titles.

At this point, midway between lockdowns in spring and growing nervousness about the unclear outlook for the forthcoming end-of-the-year sales, many in the international book industry are reasonably concerned. What can a responsible management do to prepare?

Restructure your business”, was the stringent advice of Peter Jark, a lawyer with BBL-Law, specializing in insolvencies, adding drily “and not your debt.” Jark is convinced that first and foremost, the pandemic fallout put every single company into a “change situation”, which will require “to spend money on operational restructuring”, and that change will define its new self.

The complete recordings of the ReBoot workshops, together with additional documentation will be made available online to registered attendants of ReBoot: Books, Business and Reading through www.rebootbooks.org

 

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