Book Business Outlook For 2012: Hard Work Ahead

This week hundreds of us in and around the book industry will converge on Digital Book World 2012 (#DBW12). It's a conference that has risen in significance because this industry has rapidly come to understand that it is uniquely susceptible to digitization -- and poised to benefit from it -- in a way that other media are not.

This awareness has translated into relative optimism among publishers. As I'll share with the DBW12 audience on Tuesday morning, we recently conducted a survey with Digital Book World of publishing executives whose companies together earn 74% of all US trade publishing revenues. As we closed out 2011, 82% of publishing executives we surveyed were optimistic about the digital transition. That's a large number, even if it's smaller than the 89% it was a year ago. But when we take into account all the measures of optimism we threw at them -- about the industry in general, about the fortunes of readers, and the importance of their own roles -- most of them decreased somewhat and some decreased significantly. 

Most tellingly, only 28% of these executives thought their own company would be stronger in the future because of digital compared to 51% who agreed with this sentiment the prior year. This suggests that publishers have started to do the hard work of making the digital transition and they're finding that it is, indeed, hard work. It's worth putting ourselves in the shoes of these publishing industry product strategists for a moment to consider just why they aren't positive that their companies are going to come out better off. I see three reasons:

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