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Seth Godin puts new spin on old story for publishers

July 21, 2010
image of stack of pound coins

Data holds the key to pricing and profits for future of publishing

I was fascinated and delighted to read a recent blog by online marketing guru Seth Godin in which he describes how independent book publishers can avoid the fate of record companies by grasping the new online “nettle”. He also says they are uniquely placed compared to the lumbering “corporates” which dominate the world of book publishing in general.

In his speech, he talks passionately about publishers publishing for “tribes” and how the online world permits a greater focus on “tribes” than the old method of printing books and clearing them through the bookstores.

At the core of his speech is the need to focus publishing on defined groups of readers to maximise visibility and loyalty in the online space. In some ways, this is not new – rather it is an adjustment of past business models based on data collection and mailing.

The big players in the publishing world – particularly book publishers – have for years run strategies based on general marketing, PR and promotion. The more savvy publishers – those in the professional, STM and B2B sectors such as Informa and Lexis Nexis – have focused on end-users to maximise service, value and profits. And they have done it very well.

Now, in a world where we see the growth of Amazon’s Kindle and other e-book platforms, publishers need to understand more than ever before that unless they start to publish for actual people in known groups (rather than hoping to attract unknown people from known groups), then they will lose control of their business model.

Online, we can now capture much more of our market than was ever possible with advertising, bookselling and paper data collection. But what is crucial is that we can no longer get away with a “general” offering – the new model depends on publishing specifics for specific, data-fed needs.

The problem is that publishing companies – book companies in particular – have grown up around short product life cycles and the need to constantly generate new (limited life cycle) products merely to keep cash flowing.

Often these companies publish to their “market” without knowing who they are or what they want. Rather than analysis of market size via careful assessment of data, they rely on asking the sales team about price and “what will sell”. This works in so far as it deals with the business model, but it wholly fails to maximise value, price and profit.

If publishers can gather the data, take the plunge, and publish value to known groups, they can leverage higher prices and longer term relationships without the need of the book trade.

But old habits die hard…


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