Friday, February 11, 2011

Over reacting to e-books.

"So you appear to have gone from a view that ebook readers will not have a sizeable impact for many years, to one of dramatic impact upon not only the new book market but the used book market as well."

RDC asks (pesky fellow).

I don't know that I've changed my mind. I think the end of my career is dovetailing nicely with the new paradigm, in that I'm not interested in doing digital, and if I'm forced to do digital, I'd rather bow out gracefully.

But this was assuming that it would be a natural process; that is, if everything stays steady.

I'm getting a little worried about that.

Over the course of my career, I'm used to seeing problems ahead that no one else sees. I'm used to being the most pessimistic person in the room; other retailers and distributors and publishers often seem blind to dangers I see coming around the bend.

Maybe it's just getting concentrated doses through internet sites, but it seems to me that I've become the most optimistic retailer (distributor, publisher) in the room. I think, left alone, that digital will slowly take a bigger and bigger piece of the pie, but as a retailer I could make adjustments as it happens.

I'm getting concerned that I may not have much choice in the matter; for a couple of reasons.

1.) That the infrastructure for the comic and book business is not strong enough to hold together despite the drop being in -- what for me would be a survivable -- 10 to 20% drop range.

After all, bookstores have had decades of blows from the likes of Barnes and Noble and Borders to absorbed, followed by at least a decade of Amazon, and in the same process getting hit by the chainstores like Costco and Walmart. This e-book thingy may be the final blow.

I depend on the publishers and distributors to survive. I can't sell product if it isn't being made, or if it isn't being processed and shipped.

2.) That The Powers That Be, those larger entities further up the food chain from me, will panic and institute changes that are destructive the business.

A little history here. In the early 1990's comics had their own little bubble -- actually a huge bubble in their own little world. When sales dropped off the face of the cliff, Marvel panicked.

They somehow reasoned that the drop in sales was because the distributors -- and ultimately, the retailers -- weren't doing the job. Instead of seeing the bubble for what it was -- an unrealistic sales balloon -- Marvel decided that they could re-inflate the bubble if they had their hands on all the levers --publishing, distributing, and direct contact with retailers.

It was a total disaster. It set into motion a series of events that just compounded an already dire situation. When all the dust settled, there was one surviving major distributor (Diamond), there were less than 3000 comic shops left (out of 12,000), and....not coincidentally -- Marvel was bankrupt.

What I wish every major player would consider is the concept of: "Do No Harm." Sometimes you just absorb the blows, and you don't make it worse with sudden, drastic moves.

That's what I'm worried about now; that the major publishers and distributors will over-correct, set into motion events with unforeseeable consequences, and replace a weak but functional situation into a weak and broken system.

I know no one wants to get caught behind the change curve, but I'm beginning to fear over-reaction more.

1 comment:

RDC said...

The key question is when will publishers decide that it is not worthwhile to print physical books and that they get sufficient revenue from electronic versions that they can stop dealing with the costs of printing, shipping, return management, etc.

That is the major milestone. I suspect that you will have some smaller e-book only publishers (formerly print) within the next 5 years and atleast one major within 10.