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ePublishing

After attending the BEA in Chicago, I’d say it seems that this has become an “E” world. There were so many ePublishing opportunities on display and so many representatives from eCompanies walking the floor promoting, that by the end of the day, I think everyone else’s mind was as muddled as mine.

The question that I seemed to ask the most and received the least satisfactory responses to was: “What are you doing to drive potential buyers of our products to your site?”It’s easy enough to sign up publishers to have their titles there. We are all searching for that new (and hopefully lucrative) opportunity to allow us to get our titles into the hands of the unknown prospective buyers. But for the most part, very few of the companies that I met with had a really satisfactory answer to the above question. Most seemed to be focused on getting content, which, I agree, is necessary. And I think that many of them figure that after they get the content, the buyers will come.

But how is that different from what’s currently happening at the bookstore? Yes, we can get many of our books on the shelves, but how do we either let the consumers know that our book is there or encourage them to really want to buy our book once it’s placed in a store? And in the case of ePublishing, how does a publisher know which company to align him- or herself with? So many of the platforms at these sites are not compatible with the other sites that are out there.

Right now ePublishing is the new Wild West. Frequently new companies—all offering very similar services—are announcing the opening of their businesses. You probably get about as much e-mail as I do on the development of these firms. Some will survive and prosper, giving publishers yet another outlet where they can sell their titles. Many others will go by the wayside, taking product and dreams with them.

How do you know which one to hitch your wagon to now? I wish I had the answer. I don’t. I guess the safest approach is doing solid research on these companies as well as on the dollars and time you need to invest in the project, and then hoping that the company you decide to give your “baby” to is the one who will be around for the next BEA!

To learn the basics about ePublishing, turn to Mary Westheimer’s article, “Is ePublishing for You?” The story covers the key questions publishers are asking about this developing area.

New Consumer Survey

On another note, I just received a copy of the 1999 Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing from the BISG (Book Industry Study Group). It showed that adult purchases of books rose 3% over the previous year’s level and that the juvenile unit purchase continued to decline. This second statistic was hard to believe with the outrageous success seen by the Harry Potter series! The percentage of books sold through the Internet jumped from 2% unit share in 1998 to 5% in 1999. Some other interesting facts—adult sales increased on the Internet and through the mass merchandisers and decreased in the traditional chain and indies, however the juvenile market shows increases at the indies and through mail order.

A three-year trend indicates buying share increases in the 50-65 age bracket and decreases in the 30-49 group. The majority of books are purchased by households headed by someone who has at least a high school and/or some college (56%), and those households headed by college grads are likely to spend from 22-75% more than the general population. Also, households in the Pacific States, when compared to the overall population, continue to be the heaviest book buyers; they contribute 19% of purchases while representing only 15% of the household population. While heavy book-buying in the Pacific States are mostly by adults, the regions that favor juvenile book purchasing seem to be the East North-Central and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Consumers indicated that the three top reasons for book purchases are: (1) book cover art, (2) read/heard/saw review, and (3) book price. Impulse-buying remains an important behavior response in the book-purchasing habit. Nearly half of all books sold are bought on impulse. The largest percentage of books—24.6%—are purchased at large chain bookstores, followed by 17.7% from bookclubs, and 15.2% from small chain and independent bookstores. The Internet was included for the first time as its own outlet in this study and represented 5.4% of all books purchased. Popular fiction still remains top in purchases—53%, followed by 10% cooking/crafts, 9% religion, 8% general nonfiction, 6% technical/science/education, and 5% psychology and recreation.

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of the entire report, you should query the Book Industry Study Group, Inc., 160 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010-7000. Last year, PMA jointly sponsored a study of the independent press community with the BISG titled The Rest of Us. Future joint projects are planned.

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