#BEA11: Mark Twain May Be Dead, but Print Books Aren’t

In What's the Buzz by Edward Nawotka

BookExpo America 2011

By Erin L. Cox

At BEA, “The Report of My Death Was Exaggerated — Book Edition” panel did just what the Mark Twain quote did years ago: chastise the media for being too quick to decree the death of print publishing.

Though it’s difficult to ignore the e-books are selling like hotcakes, three publishers and one bookseller proved that, for some books, the print version is still a viable (and often wildly successful) business proposition.

Chronicle Books, Lonely Planet, and Workman have always made a business of being innovative publishers willing to invest in their print editions, but with the onset of e-publishing, they’ve taken it one step further and been sensitive to the competition from free outlets or less expensive editions.

Bob Miller, Group Publisher for Workman, said it best when he described why 80% of Workman’s sales are still print, “You can’t digitize a book about potato chip science that is packaged in a potato chip bag.” And, truly, you can’t.

So, like in so many other ways of publishing, publishers have to devote more energy to marketing and producing print books that not only can compete with an e-model, but also appeal to an e-audience.

John Boris, Executive Vice President for Lonely Planet, said that digital publishing has only helped increase their market share with their 9.2 million travel apps and, in some cases, driven a digital audience to the print edition. And, to appeal to a digital audience that is used to seeing travel information with color photos and more vibrant, shorter descriptions, they have augmented their print editions. The printing might cost more, but they are investing in their bottom line in order to expand that audience.

For Chronicle Books, they have expanded their output to include items beyond books that lead to print sales. I am a big fan of their many stationery lines by their designers, but their cookbooks have beautiful endpages and other design features that make a book more than a document of information, but a work of art that cannot be replicated in an e-book format.

So, the print editions might have some competition, but they are far from dead. Just like anything, we all have to be a little more creative and know what our audiences really want.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.