It’s the Consumer, Stupid!

Considering the contrasting audiences — one a collection of small publishers and publishing students, and the other a pride of publishing elite, the mantra at NYU’s Center for Publishing Management Forum for Independent Publishers and PW’s Summit was the same: It’s the consumer, stupid. At NYU, this theme was picked up by several speakers, including Ingram’s Phil Ollila and Howard Fisher of the Fisher Company, who praised niche publishers for creating product for a target market and then educating retailers about that market. At PW, Kosmo Kalliarekos, in a reprise of his AAP presentation in February, showed that, where publishing has a close relationship with its end user, its margins are that much more attractive. Even The NYTBR’s Sam Tanenhaus, in a refreshing break from tradition, talked about understanding the Book Review readers and what they want.
Both forums — which were back-to-back and drew some of the same participants, either as speakers or as attendees — started with the given that traditional trade publishing is a no-growth business. Whether that means publishers are stealing market share or actually expanding the market depended on who was at the podium: the trade sales and marketing folk tended to the zero sum outlook; and nontraditionalists — special sales, online, niche players and bright-eyed consultants — claimed a vast expanse of untapped opportunity. It was notable that in the NYU forum the small publishers (though that’s a misleading term, given Workman’s presence in the person of Bruce Harris) were uniformly enthusiastic, committed to nontraditional sales, eager to embrace customer research, and blissfully unaware of mega-author advances — the writedowns on which, according to Mr. Kalliarekos, are responsible for sucking virtually all profit out of trade books.