With many publishers, there is a perception in the public eye and in trade circles, that they are fighting a rearguard action against the new technology that they see as a threat to the established order of the traditional publishing world. The cliché, ‘running around like headless chickens,’ comes to mind. Everyone seems to be talking strategies, but their PR as well as their business models needs some serious overhauling, as the word on the street seems indicates many are acting like spoilt children. The actions I am talking about are such as setting up joint eBook stores and trying to slow down the inevitable, by insisting on ridiculous pricing of eBooks in their fight with Amazon, instead of having a coherent strategy to embrace the new world order that is emerging.
One such publisher, Bloomsbury, seems to be bucking the trend, by coming out of the closet and finally showing some sense by setting out a vision for the future, to embrace the new technology and to alter its business model to harness the demand for eBooks. This relatively new media has shown tremendous growth throughout the recession and is set to explode as we come out of the world financial crisis and consumers spending power is restored. Not since the introduction of computers created such a stir in the printing world when they made typesetting obsolete has there been such a significant change that will affect the future book printing.
By comparison to the big six, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, MacMillan Publishers, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster, Bloomsbury is relatively small in terms of revenue, but with catalogues boasting the likes of Harry Potter, they are hardly an insignificant player.
In 2009, Bloomsbury reported 79,000 pounds/$126,000 revenue from eBook sales. Following this, they digitized over 1,900 titles and in 2010, their revenue rose to 1.5 million pounds/ $2.4 million. In the first quarter to March, the results are even more encouraging at, 1.1 million pounds/ $1.76 million … not bad for three months. If I were the chairman, I would include a small prayer area at their new headquarters to pray that J K Rowling favors them with the digital rights.
Their Chairman reports that “This is an exciting time for Bloomsbury: e-book demand is increasing significantly; it will change the publishing business model creating one worldwide market. The recent organizational change is already bringing benefits to the Group, enabling us to better exploit that worldwide market as a global publisher in print and digital. During 2011/12, these benefits will be enhanced by the move into our new headquarters building in Bedford Square, London. We have a strong balance sheet and an excellent management team, so are well placed to exploit future opportunities as we enter our 25th anniversary year.”
Despite their progress in harnessing the advance of eBook sales, it doesn’t mean they are to stop printing books, but they are to pare their efforts into printing a core of likely commercial successes,and moving back catalogues and slow-moving sales to POD. With all the talk of publishers going to the wall It would seem they are making all the right moves to survive in this competitive market.
Other news is that they are going to continue to seek out new talent to publish. The only news that concerned me was that they were going to use POD as a means of keeping back catalogue in print. I am not sure if this will be good for authors who could normally get their rights back when a book goes out of print. No doubt, the literary agents will be keeping an eye out on those developments. I know if I were one of their author’s, I would be combing through my contract to see if there was a loophole out if this. One thing is for sure, they must be crossing their fingers that J K Rowling, (Who’s agent cleverly negotiated out the digital rights) will favor them if she decides to go the digital route. Until now, she has fiercely refused to go digital, although the rumor mills have been gathering pace of late, with her agent allegedly to have said that, ‘Rowling did not want to cut anyone out of the digital loop.’ (The inference being that she was maybe considering it.) Whilst growth of eBooks sales will grow, with or without Harry Potter, there is no doubt that releasing the series, as eBooks would bring a welcome boost to the sales of eReaders.