Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hachette at the Tipping Point

Hachette CEO David Young
But it's not the tipping point that you might be thinking of. At this week's Publishing Point Meetup, David Young, Chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group took his turn being interviewed by Michael Healy. Here's the bit that caught my ear:
If you just rewind the clock five, even ten years, the negotiations that one had with with Barnes and Noble, or WH Smith or Waterstones seemed like the most challenging things in the world, you were entering a G8 summit or something, and now they appear like a vicar's tea party compared with the people with whom we now regularly deal. Massive companies, Amazon, Apple, Google, and in fact last year was a tipping point for our company, because 50% of our net revenues were made through outlets that were not invested in us. Companies like Walmart and Costco and all the others you can think of, not directly invested in our business. And I think that was a big moment and it means you're having to deal with people who think about books in a way totally different from the way Barnes and Nobles regards books. Every retailer who does sell books understands that they drive traffic into their stores, I have no doubt that's why Walmart and Target and Costco love them so much, but they do tend to cream off the top. [..]
We have a very wide ranging, wide array of customers with whom to deal. They're selling our books in our special sales department through TJ Maxx and Anthropologie now. I know they even think about covers of our new books ahead of time to make sure that they're in this season's color.
That's right, Amazon just announced they were selling more Kindle ebooks than print books, and the big transition in Hachette's business is that they don't sell the majority of their books in bookstores anymore.

I had never been inside an Anthropologie store before, so I decided to go and take a look at the future of the book selling business. It seems to be mostly pink and pale green this year. Also a sort of pale purplish blue.

Here are some of the titles I found:
What a brilliantly arranged store! The casual cotton dresses look at least twice as slinky with a stack of color-coordinated Lover's Dictionaries piled next to them. And my mom loved candles- I never realized their connection to good parenting!

That other tipping point I've been writing about here? The library ebook thing? In the Q&A session, Young was asked: "What's your policy on ebook library lending?" Since Hachette allows Overdrive to distribute its ebooks to libraries, I hoped this would be a softball. But it wasn't. (Or maybe Young, an Englishman, only knows cricket.)
That is, I think, a really really big question, and I wish I knew the answer to it. All I know is we're putting a lot of thought into it. I'm meeting the President of the ALA in New Orleans in June and we're talking with our various partners around that. I think its something that needs a lot of careful thought because if you let that particular genie out of the bottle and get it wrong then you could get yourself in all sorts of trouble. Should there be a library solution? I'm certain there should be, but what it is we haven't figured it out. We're putting a lot of thought and effort into it.
The beginning of dialog at the very highest level between book publishers and librarians is definitely good news, and long overdue, but I'm not sure what advice I would give to ALA President Roberta Stevens for that meeting. Maybe she could offer to put the genie in one of those pot-candles that look so great alongside books at Anthropologie?
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1 comment:

  1. Anthropologie's one of those luxury brands built on promoting a distinctive (and, in its case, bewildering, if romantic) image. I guess paper books are part of that too: a conspicuous consumption item, a decorative statement. Throwback to the days of scriptoria?

    Even less Pantone-compliant books have a conspicuous consumption value; I hear people who love their ereaders but are bummed that their fellow subway riders will never realize they are reading Remembrance of Things Past instead of Bridget Jones' Diary (the sort of work for which the anonymous brown-paper-bag ereader may be a distinct advantage...)

    I want to say that I don't want my books to be decoration and signaling, but I'm writing this in a living room with bookselves stuffed to capacity on every available chunk of wall space, so what do I know.

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