Changes and Challenges in the Supply Chain

In Feature Articles by Guest Contributor

By John Mutter of Shelf Awareness

Online challenges and opportunities were major themes yesterday at the 31st International Supply Chain seminar, sponsored by Editeur and the Boersenverein.

Jonathan Nowell of Nielsen Book noted that the difficult economy has led to a “huge shift in consumer spending.” While the freefall has ended, he said, “restraint characterizes consumer spending behavior.” Book sales are down in most areas, particularly in nonfiction. Still, he predicted that 2010 will mark a dramatic growth in e-books and e-book readers, leading to “a massive disruption of the book trade.” Companies that succeed in the new era will be those that “know how to sell online.”

While online sales still represent just 3.5% of the overall U.S. economy, the online world is also becoming more and more important as an influencer on decisions, in part because of social media, where many users discuss and make recommendations about books.

Nowell also noted that according to surveys, for prospective e-book buyers the price of individual titles is more important than the cost of the device itself.

He concluded with three words of advice for publishers: “Experiment, experiment, experiment.”
Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Co. called Facebook and Twitter “not optimal for Web marketing today because they’re horizontal or they’re subject-interest agnostic.” By contrast, sites that are focused around specific interests provide much more fertile ground for book publishers.

Noting that most publishers’ websites are “product catalogues on steroids,” Shatzkin lauded several publisher sites., for example, which specializes in science fiction, operates independently of the rest of the company and has built its credentials with users by talking about other publishers’ books and even selling other publishers’ books. But of even more importance, he said, is mining subject-interest websites.

Kelly Gallagher of Bowker said, “There is an elemental shift in the industry: the traditional supply chain may become largely irrelevant.” Under the traditional push model, “we create content, push to libraries, stores, and expect the consumer to come and get it.” Under the new model, the consumer will “call the shots”: she wants what she reads “when and where and however she wants it and wants to share it with whomever she wants,” he said.

Gallagher also noted some e-book trends: the Sony Reader and Kindle are attracting “an older crowd” while mobile devices attract younger users. While the Kindle represents 26.8% of the e-reader market, downloading e-books to computers is still half of the market share for e-books. The academic market still has “no useful device” so there is a huge opportunity waiting for somebody to come up with a killer app for textbooks. What sells in print is not always what sells as e-books, and is often dependent on the relatively poor quality of today’s e-readers.

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