Hinter der Absage der Leipziger Buchmesse wird das Auseinanderdriften der Buchbranche unübersehbar.

Alle kommen nach Frankfurt, weil alle nach Frankfurt kommen.“ Auf diese bewusst zum Kalauer zugespitzte Formel verständigten wir uns intern, als ich 1998 als Pressesprecher mithalf die 50. Frankfurter Buchmesse vorzubereiten.

Leipziger Buchmesse Veranstaltung Wir lieben das Lesen.

Für Leipzig galt Ähnliches, mit leicht unterschiedlicher Fokussierung auf das „Fest der Literatur“. Doch mit einem Mal geschah das nicht Vorgesehene: Es kamen nicht ‚Alle‘. Etwas war mit einem Mal verrutscht. Aber was?

Als Oliver Zille als Direktor der Leipziger Buchmesse Mitte Januar seine bisherigen Aussteller per Fragebogen anschrieb, antworteten 83 Prozent – was einer ungewöhnlich hohen Rücklaufquote entspricht -, von denen wiederum 80 Prozent angaben, „auf jeden Fall weiter dabei zu sein“, wie die Süddeutsche Zeitung berichtet. Am 31. Januar lag die Zusage immer noch bei 75 Prozent an Zusagen. Doch am 9. Februar sah sich Zille gezwungen, die Messe abzusagen, weil eine ausreichend repräsentative Zahl an Teilnehmenden nicht mehr gewährleistet schien.

Um beim Kalauer zu bleiben: Alle wären dabei gewesen, wenn alle dabei gewesen wären. Doch kaum zeigten sich Risse im Konsens, war plötzlich alles anders. Ein brutaler Realitätsschock, der eine genauere Betrachtung erfordert.

  1. Die vielen Lesenden und Schreibenden

Beim Besuch der bislang letzten Leipziger Buchmesse im März 2019 fiel mir plötzlich auf, wie deutlich sichtbar hier viele völlig unterschiedliche – und auch äußerlich unterscheidbare – Gruppierungen von Lesenden (und Schreibenden und die Büchermachenden) sich in und zwischen den Messehallen tummelten. Ich begann zwischen den unterschiedlichen Bühnen hin und her zu wandern und jeweils das Publikum zu fotografieren.

Nicht allein die schon zum Messe-Selbstbild zählenden Cosplayer sprangen ins Auge. Auch die Fans vor der Fantasy Bühne, jene bei den Romance Autorinnen, die Gruppe der an literarischen Übersetzungen Interessierten und natürlich die Fanartikel Sammelnden im Seitenbereich vor den eigentlichen Messehallen bildeten jeweils sich fein voneinander unterscheidende „Demographien“.

Denn es entstand in den letzten Jahren eine besondere Qualität in Leipzig, für diese Endkunden jeweils gut erkennbare Unterbereiche zu entwickeln.

Offensichtlich ging es den Veranstaltern hier im Weichbild um diese unterschiedlichen Lesenden, und um die Schreibenden (und Zeichnenden und Gestaltenden). „Direct2Consumer“ hatte sich hier materialisiert.

Darüber entstand auch ein anderer Rahmen für die eher traditionellen Bereiche, in denen die herkömmlichen Verlage ihre in Größe und Üppigkeit immer wieder verblüffenden Stände sich neu einbetten konnten.

Allein, die Ausdifferenzierung machte gerade darüber aber auch die Bruchlinien viel deutlicher spürbar als anderswo: Die “Buchbranche“, also die so gerne beschworene Gemeinde der Buchmenschen, war längst mehr ein abstrakt wiederholtes Branchenmantra denn eine Realität.

  1. Die Großen und die Kleinen

Die zweimalige Absage der Messe durch Covid-19 hatte den größeren Austellern gezeigt, dass sich der Ausfall des Traditionsevents rein kaufmännisch (und es muss wohl hinzugefügt werden: kurzfristig) sehr gut durch andere, günstigere Maßnahmen auffangen ließ. Die aufwendigen Stände und Selbstdarstellungen waren plötzlich nicht mehr ein hoher Fixposten im Jahresbudget. Denn es gab Alternativen.

In den unvermeidlichen Schuldzuschreibungen nach der Absage waren die Großverlage darüber als Schurken rasch ausgemacht. Tatsächlich waren es wohl Random House und Holtzbrinck (mit den großen Publikumsmarken Rowohlt, S. Fischer, Kiepenheuer, Droemer Knaur), die die Balance der Organisatoren zum Kippen brachten.

Aber wo waren die vielen anderen aus den 80 Prozent, die noch wenige Wochen davor „auf jeden Fall“ dabei sein wollten?

Die Frankfurter Buchmesse hatte im Frühsommer 2020 einen vergleichbaren Punkt der Wahrheit erlebt, als das Management verkündete die Messe trotz Pandemie abhalten zu wollen – und in den Tagen danach von großen Verlagen per Presseaussendung hören musste, diese hätten andere Pläne.

Hier zerfällt die Buchbranche als beschworene Gemeinschaft der Buchmenschen auf offener Bühne in Akteure mit sehr unterschiedlichen Perspektiven – und wohl auch Interessen und Notwendigkeiten.

Es ist in beiden Fällen schwer nachvollziehbar, dass es hier augenscheinlich keinen großen, runden Tisch gab und gibt, an dem alle relevanten Gruppen von (großen wie auch kleineren) Akteuren so eingebunden sind, dass Weichenstellungen für diese Buchbranche verhandelt werden können – und dies dann auch die Verpflichtung inkludiert, diese gemeinsamen Entscheidungen auch öffentlich mitzutragen.

Das Verlagsgeschäft ist gewiss die größte unter den Kulturindustrien, doch am Ende kennt man sich doch recht gut, auch zwischen den Großen und den zahlreichen Kleinen. Die Branchenvertretung gibt überdies mit viel Selbstbewusstsein an, unter einem gemeinsamen Dach alle Beteiligten entlang der gesamten Wertschöpfungskette im Buchgeschäft zu vertreten. Nun, zumindest alle abgesehen von den Schreibenden und den Lesenden.

Was war hier geschehen?

Das Grundproblem ist jedenfalls nicht spezifisch deutsch.

Aus Frankreich erreicht uns eben die Notiz, wonach beim neu geschaffenen „Festival du livre de Paris“ die Vereinigung der Regionen nicht mitmacht, nicht zuletzt, weil Selbstverlage und selbst verlegende Autorinnen und Autoren nicht zum großen Festival zugelassen werden.

In New York ist nach Jahren der zunehmenden Erosion die größte Business Veranstaltung der Buchbranche, die BookExpo America, de facto eingestellt worden. Immer weniger war den großen Akteuren in der nationalen Book Industry zu vermitteln gewesen, warum sie sich Raum und Aufmerksamkeit mit allen möglichen Anderen aus der vermeintlich gemeinsamen Branche hätten teilen sollen. Lieber arrangierten jene, die es konnten, die Meetings in den eigenen Büros in Manhattan. Da blieb man unter sich.

  1. Die große Drift – wohin?

In der Gemengelage, die zur Absage der Leipziger Buchmesse führte, und noch deutlicher in der nunmehrigen Kontroverse um diese Absage werden Kräfte sichtbar, die weit über die unmittelbaren Auswirkungen der Pandemie hinausgehen.

Unter dem Brennglas der Pandemie wird deutlich, wie Besitzstände, die lange unter dem gemeinsamen und auch bequemen Dach der gemeinschaftlichen Buchbranche gut koexistieren konnten, nun auseinanderdriften.

Dabei geht es nicht allein um die unterschiedlichen Interessenslagen zwischen Handel und Verlagen, zwischen Konzernen versus vielfältige, kleinere Akteure, und dann noch der bedeutenden Gruppe der mittelgroßen Akteure dazwischen, die unter dem sich verschärfenden wirtschaftlichen Wettbewerb es besonders schwer haben sich kenntlich und erfolgreich zu positionieren, jeweils im Handel wie auch bei den Verlagen. Und dann gibt es da noch, als Mega-Player und Konkurrent, Amazon.

Noch gar nicht erwähnt sind dabei die einzigartige Rolle von Leipzig für spezielle Ziel- und Nutzergruppen: Als wichtigster jährliche Begegnungsort für die kleinteilig verästelten Literaturen Zentral-, Ost und Südosteuropas, die Übersetzungsforen, oder – eingangs kurz angesprochen – der ganze Bereich des Selfpublishing, welcher längst aus Sicht der Lesenden mit seinem breiten Fußabdruck die Buchlandschaften mitprägt.

Das alles lässt sich offenbar kaum noch unter einen Branchenhut bringen.

  1. Messe versus Festival versus Platform

Meine größte Verblüffung bei der Absage der Leipziger Buchmesse war das damit einher gehende Aus von „Leipzig Liest“. Weshalb sollten dezentrale Begegnungen zwischen Schreibenden und Lesenden (und Zuhörenden) pauschal nicht stattfinden können? Ohne erst einmal, hier und dort, unter den sehr unterschiedlichen Veranstaltenden nachzufragen. Auch ohne, nach zwei Jahren pandemischer Erprobung, auch kurzfristige Hybrid-Arrangements erst einmal zu bedenken.

Alle – oder zumindest viele – lesen, weil so viele lesen wollen‘, dies wäre gerade vor dem Erfahrungshintergrund der eingangs in Erinnerung gerufenen vielen diversen Gemeinschaften von Lesenden und Schreibenden in Leipzig die näher liegende Entscheidung gewesen.

Aber gab es überhaupt eine entsprechende Gesprächsrunde, die solch eine breite Entscheidung hätte erkunden und erst im weiteren Schritt treffen wollen? Oder müssen wir uns ein Messemanagement vorstellen, das am Ende des Tages in sehr kleiner Besetzung letztlich, mangels ausreichender Zusagen hatte den Daumen senken müssen – und nun riskiert allein alle Verantwortung, also Schuld, aufgeladen zu bekommen?

Anders – und provokanter – gefragt: Sind eine Buchmesse – oder auch ein Lese-Festival – notwendigerweise ein Format, das allein die Veranstalter bestimmen? Sind Messen, viel bescheidener, und wohl auch weniger emphatisch aufgeladen einfach Plattformen?

Eine Plattform hat schafft einen Rahmen für unterschiedliche Nutzungen, mit eher losen Spielregeln, In Leipzig liegt dabei der Fokus auf den Schreibenden und den Lesenden plus die regionale zentraleuropäische Dimension. In Frankfurt geht es um das Buchgeschäft, mit Rechtehandel Vertrieb, Dienstleistungen, Technologie, plus das international sehr relevante Engagement für unzensiertes Publizieren.

Dies hier ist kein Abgesang auf Buchmessen. Aber ich denke, die Zäsur, die die Absage von Leipzig markiert, ist von grundsätzlicher Natur. Sie gilt nicht nur der Messe im März 2022, sondern dem bequemen und pathetisch überhöhten, jedoch aus der praktischen Wirklichkeit von Produzenten wie Konsumenten gefallenen Modell einer ‚alles umfassenden Buchbranche‘.

“Consolidation” is the #WordoftheYear 2021 in the Book Business

A #publishing #XMas tale (and a few links for further #reading down below).

Frankfurt Skyline by night

What does Penguin Random House as the world’s largest consumer book publisher have in common with tiny German Schöffling Verlag? Certainly a mutual love for cats – as Schöffling’s iconic bestseller is the annually updated “Literary Cat Calendar“, and a good reason for the indie publisher’s recent acquisition by Swiss German Kampa Verlag. PRH has listed the sophisticated “Yoga For Cats” among the thousands of titles published worldwide.

Not cats though were the main driver for recent #takeovers among publishing ventures big and small, but a paramount appetite for “#bundling #strengths” through #acquisitions.

Consolidation is summing up in one buzzword what drives and reshapes the global bookbusiness in 2021 across the bord. But at closer scrutiny, a mind boggling variety of different models and trajectories has popped up in what consolidation means exactly. There is a US style “Big-buys-Not-so-big“, a Frenchprivate-billionnaire-bingo“, and a GermanNo-consolidation-here” (and yet, a lot of takeovers occurred in retail, led by Thalia Bücher GmbH, and now between indie publishers as Kampa founder Daniel Kampa announced in recent weeks acquisitions of 2 small indie presses, Austrian JungundJung, and German Schöffling). There is a Russian “oligarch-style”, or an “All-is-new” in Scandinavia with subscription overtaking per copy sales.

So I spent a good part of my working hours in 2021 at compiling data and analyzing trends around that consolidation in books.

You can watch my analysis at the Frankfurt CEOTalk ;

You can listen to it at CCC‘s podcast series;

You can download and read about it in the Global50 Publishing Ranking.

And please drop me a note with your own thoughts by email or on Twitter @wischenbart

As for the cats, you’ll find them here and here.

The Global50 International Publishing Ranking 2021 is out!

Banner ad for Global 50 publishing ranking

The Global 50 International Publishing Ranking 2021 is ready for free download at www.wischenbart.com/ranking.com

55 leadling publishing groups worldwide in consumer books, educational, scientific and professional, listed by revenue from publishing activities, plus a detailed analysis of trends and company profiles with key data.

The Global 50 publishing ranking is updated every year since 2007, and published in cooperation with Bookdao (China), buchreport (Germany), Livres Hebdo (France) and Publishers Weekly (USA).

Sponsored by BOD and Bookwire.

 

 

 

Global 50 CEO Talk: Consolidation, Consumers and Communities: Making Sense of the Big Business in Books (and the Small Businesses).

Wednesday, 20 October 2021, 14.00 to 15.00 CET

The Global 50 CEO Talk 2021 will investigate deep transformative shifts that currently re-define much of the international book business, notably the strong push in mergers and acquisitions, and the consumer centric business strategies with two pre-eminent guest speakers: New York based investment banker Robin Warner of Oaklin DeSilva+Philips, and Klaus Driever of Munich based Allianz Group, one of the leading integrated financial services providers worldwide.

Having closed more than 50 transactions focused on trade publishing, edtech and education information services, and healthcare to companies that include Amazon, Scribd, IPG (Independent Publishers Group), Oracle, Wiley and Macmillan, Robin Warner will analyze recent consolidation perspectives for the international book industry.

As a digital expert with experience in insurance as well as in in publishing and book retail, Klaus Driever will talk about remarkably similar patterns of digital change across industries.

Building on the new “Global 50 Ranking of the International Publishing Industry 2021”, the editors of Bookdao (China), buchreport (Germany), Livres Hebdo (France) and Publishers Weekly (US). The hybrid event in partnership with the Frankfurt Book Fair and with ReBoot Books will be moderated by Rüdiger Wischenbart.

The CEO Talk will shed light on a wave of major mergers and acquisitions is re-shaping the global business of books. Bertelsmann’s Penguin Random House is acquiring iconic US publisher Simon and Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is picked up by Harper Collins, and Workman is taken over by French Hachette – which in turn has been viewed by the other large media group in France, Vivendi, in what is expected by observers to grow into an acquisition bid at some point next year.

The dynamics are not at all limited to the big consumer book houses. Finnish Sanoma, a specialist in digital education, has acquired the respective activities of Spanish Santillana. In Germany meanwhile, a staggering process of consolidation continues with the largest book retail chain integrating smaller regional players throughout the country. And in Great Britain, Waterstones’ James Daunt has announced new shop openings for next year.

The context in which the earlier invitation to Hachette Livre had been made has changed, and therefore the programming of the CEO talk has evolved, in agreement between the organizers of the event and Hachette Livre.

A cooperation of four leading trade media outlets, the CEO Talk traditionally features the Global 50 Ranking of the International Publishing Industry, which is researched by Rüdiger Wischenbart Content and Consulting, and has been updated every year since 2007, currently representing around 50 companies that each report revenues from publishing of over €150 million. The Global 50 Ranking is sponsored by Bookwire (www.bookwire.de )

At Frankfurter Buchmesse, the CEO Talk is a long-established tradition.

The full Global 50 Ranking will be available at www.wischenbart.com/ranking and the participating publishing publications.

About Klaus Driever and Allianz Group: Klaus is a successful and experienced digital entrepreneur. Already in the 90s he founded his first digital startups and brought companies like buecher.de (Germany) and bol.com (Netherlands) to success. As editior-in-chief and Managing director, he worked for leading companies in the media, retail and book publishing industry like Hubert Burda Media, ProSieben and Verlagsgruppe Weltbild. After holding position as CEO of the direct insurance Allsecur AG, Klaus is currently responsible for the strategically relevant digital projects at Allianz Germany. He holds a PhD in Political Science from Freiburg University in Germany and is also Alumni of Trinity College Dublin. Klaus lives in Munich and is active in honorary capacity for InsurTechHub Munich (ITHM) and for BITKOM, Germany’s digital association representing more than 2.700 companies of the digital economy.

The Allianz Group is a global financial services provider with services predominantly in the insurance and asset management business. Over 100 million retail and corporate clients1 in more than 70 countries rely on our knowledge, global presence, financial strength and solidity. In fiscal year 2020 over 150,000 employees worldwide achieved total revenues of 140.5 billion euros and an operating profit of 10.8 billion euros. Allianz SE, the parent company, is headquartered in Munich, Germany. Source: en-2021-10-fact-sheet.pdf (allianz.com)

About the magazines and their editors participating at the Global 50 CEO Talk: Sanguo Cheng, founder and president of Bookdao (China), Lena Scherer, deputy editor-in-chief, buchreport (Germany), Fabrice Piault, editor-in-chief, Livres Hebdo (France), and Andrew Albanese, features editor, Publishers Weekly (US).

About ReBoot: ReBoot Books (www.rebootbooks.org) is a series of book industry and will be represented by Carlo Carrenho. Its sponsors include KNK (www.knk.com ) and BOD (www.BOD.com )

Contact: Rüdiger Wischenbart, founder and president Content and Consulting (Austria),  office@wischenbart.com

 

A Preview on the Global 50 World Publishing Ranking 2021

Breaks, but no breakdowns: The pandemic and its impact on the international book business” reads the headline of a new preview of the Global 50 World Publishing Ranking 2021.

Generic chart Illustration for White Paper Preview Global 50 Publishing Ranking 2021

Download your free copy of this White Paper at Preview Global 50 2021
This ‘Preview’ to the next Global 50 looks specifically at the following topics:
– The impact of the pandemic on exemplary leading publishing corporations;
– The drivers behind initially unexpected positive market developments;
– The acceleration of business innovation triggered during the pandemic, with
special highlights on digital, audiobooks and subscription models;
– The opening gap in market developments between selected European countries;
– The ongoing surge in competition, driving industry consolidation, new alliances
and powerful impulses from neighboring media sectors;
– The transformative dynamics of the expanding “network and platform” economy
as it reshapes book consumption.

The complete Global 50 World Publishing Ranking will be released by the end of August 2021 at www.wischenbart.com/ranking.

We thank our sponsors of the Global 50, namely BOD, Bookwire, knk and Plureos for their generous and ongoing support.

Reboot Books > “How To Fix What Is Broken”. On increasing efficiency, ‘going direct’ and better rights trading

In case you have missed the recent online debate at ReBoot Books on April 21st, find here below some key talking points from the discussions – and a 16 minute video excerpt from the panel “In search of the final consumer“.

As a registered member of ReBoot, you can even view the full three sessions in the ReBoot Box!

The day-to-day challenges under pandemic market conditions for a publishing company are adding up to a long list, said Planeta’s CEO Jesús Badenes in his opening statement at the ReBoot online debate on April 21, 2021.

The business has become more complex, with smaller average print runs and other titles gaining in popularity as book buyers’ references changed. For the head of the largest publishing group in the Spanish language, the key to an efficient management response can be boiled down to a four-letter word: Data.

Having the right data at your finger tips allows to better manage the inventory, finding the right balance between increasing digital products, and using flexible print-on-demand solutions for physical books, which helps to lower returns and make ecommerce more customer friendly.

This allowed Gerd Robertz, CEO of German BOD – a provider of both PoD and of author & self-publishing solutions, and a sponsor of ReBoot – to follow up seemlessly. These same solutions are available not just to big corporations – Planeta’s turnover tops that of New York based Simon & Schuster, or French Editis group. Even small independent publishers or a self-published author can provide the same convenience in fast delivery, and harvest resulting data insights, to develop a strong and targetd marketing.

Publishers and retailers must “build a customer journey“, added Jason Spanos, Chief Revenue Officer at KNK, an internationally leading software provider to the book business, and a sponsor of ReBoot. During the pandemic, KNK particularly focused, with a newly established, dedicated team, on monitoring how quickly customer engagement and habits were changing. “We simulated meetings at libraries, or in coffeeshops, or now in their online social exchanges” for learning to quickly adapt to new patterns of engagement.

Gaining data, organizing them within one company, or even sharing data more openly that what is common today triggered the subsequent lively debate between both speakers and experienced book professionals in the audience.

Today, said technologist Matt Turner, people interact digitally in order to then buy physical books – or opt for entertainment media instead of a book, like series or games in streaming TV.

Thus publishers must learn to better understand their own products and, as Anne Bergmann of the Federation of European Publishers added, explore the co-existence between sales and streaming services for e-books and digital audiobooks, in order to avoid mistakes that had done great harm to the music and the audiovisual services a decade ago.

Companies need to integrate workflows and data flows within their organization, and not just look at data gained through distributors and retailers, argued Brian O’Leary of the New York based industry think tank BISG.

How all this can be brought to fruition in the day-to-day company life was richly illustrated by Julie MacKay from the American subscription platform Scribd, Peta Nightingale from the British author services platform Bookouture, which had been acquired by Hachette, as well as Rafaela Pechansky of the Brazilian reading community TAG.

How well established in innovative forms to connect and network are seen in the trade of rights and licenses will be summarized in a separate blog post in a few days.

You can’t wait to access the full debates in video recordings – and join us also at the next live event on June 15, 2021, then you should become a full member of ReBoot. Registration is simple at https://rebootbooks.org/

It is all about the details! ReBoot’s workshop „Assessing the Damage“ identified winning and losing experiences in the international book business under the pandemic.

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.

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

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.

For book fairs, 2020 was (not is) a watershed moment. On Reed Exhibitions pulling the plug at BookExpo, and related news. About the current re-writing of the publishing play book.

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.

 

Post-pandemic strategies? Fix the supply chain of books!

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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