Publishing, the Future, and Market Research
In most industries, market research is considered crucial. In the book business, it seems as if it is considered antithetical to good publishing. I do not believe that publishers should choose which books to publish based simply on research about what people want to read, as that would produce a market that looks like television (but hey, isn’t that what a lot of people complain we already have? Hmmm…).
But of course some books might well be published (and published well) based on research about what the market needs. But it seems rather that the book industry as a whole needs to know much more about its readers (current and future) and therefore about the kinds of delivery mechanisms that will appeal to them in a digital universe.
Back to the comparison with the record business….which is by all measures, the closest in nature and behavior to the book business….consumers of music have increasingly made clear that they are not that interested in traditional containers (CD’s being traditional in that they are a physical collection of songs - even though they are only twenty five years old as a specific physical format). Record companies need to redefine themselves as content businesses, primarily.
Is this true of publishers? I think so, many others do as well. How would we find out?
Wouldn’t we be able to ask readers questions about books, reading, digital delivery systems, pricing, etc., and imperfect as the answers might be, learn something meaningful that we could use to help reconfigure how books are made, marketed, sold and delivered?
Does the Book Industry Study Group(BISG) have this responsibility? Does AAP? Does the NEA? Are individual publishers doing this kind of research? Maybe Amazon or Barnes & Noble is most likely to be working on these issues.
I think the Radiohead experiment ought to be replicated many times over in different variations, for both music and writing. Regardless of the future delivery shape of the book, I think the configuration of the world of retail and the way the Web works makes it imperative for authors and publishers to begin to build different sorts of relationships with consumers.
The only way we will learn what works and how what works may vary across different types of books and authors, is to experiment, and then study the results.
If anyone reading this has information about studies in reading and technology, new media publishing, consumer thinking about digital books, pricing models, etc., I’d be grateful to learn about them.