Posted on July 18, 2013 in Archive

4 things booksellers and publishers can learn from Kodak


People are always drawing parallels between the bookselling industry and others that have already faced the ‘digital revolution’. So what can we learn from Kodak?

One common comparison is between the music industry and the book business.

Both publishing houses and record labels were slow to embrace digital technologies and replace old business models with progressive substitutes, and both faced massive threats to their relevance (and their egos).

Book publishers even made the same mistake as record labels regarding DRM.

Just as Apple’s DRM locked music buyers into iTunes in the early years of digital music, the demand by publishers for DRM has made Amazon the most dominant player in the digital book industry, and has locked many readers into the Kindle platform.

Likewise, photography – an industry that was really turned upside down by digital – has a lot more in common with bookselling than you’d think.

In both examples, the retail business deteriorated at a much faster rate than the optimism and enthusiasm of people working in the field.

And because booksellers and publishers have taken so long to jump aboard the digital bandwagon, the industry is suffering.

A lot of brands are having trouble fusing the old system with the new.

For example, Barnes and Noble invested big bucks in their e-reader, Nook. However, due to the fact that their business model has always been built around the success of their retail superstores, they can’t sustain their digital solution without a stable funding base.

And this is similar to what happened to photography brands like Konica, Polaroid and Kodak in the 1990’s.

Retail erosion eventually prompted some of these big brands to merge. The Konica and Minolta amalgamation can be likened to that of the union between publishers Penguin and Random House.

Some brands, like Sony, decided to walk away from consumer photography, while others perished altogether. Here we can see similarities between the demise of the renowned photography brand Kodak, and bookselling chain Borders.

Across both industries, prominent brands suddenly had to rapidly downsize and make way for new players; players like Apple and Amazon, who with their digitalised business models had their fingers right on the proverbial pulse.

If booksellers sort through all of these analogies and look for what has worked for other industries changed by the digital revolution, they might be better set to tackle it in the future.

1.     Create new business models

Publishers should work towards creating new business models that make the most of what digital technologies have to offer.

That is, after all, what customers want.

Gone are the days of retail superstores; even the ones with built-in coffee shops don’t cut it anymore.

Modern readers want to be able to access books instantly and from the convenience of their own home, or the train, or their office, and publishers need to cater to these needs.

2.     Create new brand identities

Booksellers also need to reconsider their business models, and while doing so, come up with fresh brand identities.

They could walk in the footsteps of Fuji and create new store-within-store branded concepts.

Just as Fuji installed self-service photo booths in supermarkets like Walmart, booksellers could open up stalls in supermarkets and retail chains.

Or while they still have some money in the bank, they could look into buying new, smaller digital publishers to help set them in the right direction.

3.     Sell book bundles

One approach that seems to have worked favourably for some small music labels is recognising that people want options, and providing them with free or discounted MP3s when they purchase vinyls or CD’s.

People are often willing to pay a few extra dollars for the convenience of having options.

Booksellers need to acknowledge that physical and digital books aren’t mutually exclusive.

Instead, a lot of people would appreciate it if they could buy them in bundles.

Image of woman reading digital book in a library - learn from kodak

Print and digital – they don’t have to be enemies

4.     Provide the customer with interactivity

Digital readers also want to take advantage of the interactive nature of the Internet.

Publishers could provide this by creating and overseeing digital reading communities, where readers could discuss books, share their excitement, meet authors, and recommend new titles.

One example that springs to mind is Bookish – an online reading community that capitalises on the strengths of the Internet to provide similar services to those mentioned above.

What’s great about this website is that it’s not owned by Amazon. It was founded by three of the big five publishers, and receives additional support from dozens of other major brands.

One of the most important things for publishers to remember is that people will always want to buy print books; just like they’ll always print photos or buy music.

The way they do it is just different.

With a little adjustment, and with a redirection of focus to include digital books, publishers and maybe even chain bookshops can and will survive.