[With this article I’d like to start a weekly reflection, every Tuesday, in touch with the publishers. Anyone with ideas, comments, criticism or requests to make can do so by sending me an email at email@example.com. Thanks!]
We rarely run into publishers who are truly aware of the real situation the book industry is in. Up until two or three years ago many of them responded, shrugging their shoulders, “But what crisis! The book market is countercyclical; when there’s a crisis people have less money, so instead of going out they stay home and read a book.” Go figure.
Then came (and are still wreaking havoc) the multitude of publishers, but also and perhaps more importantly the authors, critics and intellectuals for whom yes, the book is in a crisis, but there’s a culprit: the world wide web, Internet, digital technology, ebooks. “What do you expect, ma’am, with all this stuff on the Internet, of course nobody reads any more!” Here that which Fausto Lupetti (more to follow) so wisely defines “the shore on which to land” (digital technology) is even indicated as the evil from which to run and hide. Well, go figure.
None, nobody, or few, very few stop to contemplate a now blatant situation with a little clarity: that strange situation for which the paper book market (and not just in Italy, but on a global scale, let’s just stop it with the victimist provincialism!) is no longer sustainable, “it’s no economy“, again with Lupetti, while his now sure-fire landfall, his key to the solution, still can’t compensate for the losses which (due to irresponsible delays) are becoming quite heavy in the meantime: “In the balance sheet of the publishers and the supply chain including distributors and Bookstores the average loss is 20-25 %, which is not compensated by ebook sales.”
It may seem like a mere outburst, this statement published by Fausto Lupetti in the blog on his digital distributor STEALTH. But those who know Fausto know that he is not a man of meaningless outbursts: a long-time publisher, he has succeeded in focusing the debate on themes of communication, publishing and introducing authors such as Jean Baudrillard, Alberto Abruzzese and Jacques Séguéla. And now he throws a stone in the pond of the book publishing industry:
“We actually try to stem the situation with cuts, but that’s not a good idea. It’s the business model that has to change. (…) To create innovation we have to change, we have to delete the memory of how we used to do things and do them in a completely different way, while maintaining the values of the publishing brand. (…) In fact, in the book supply chain everybody tries to pass off his problems on the next guy. The bookseller delivers a book after an entire week, the distributor charges the publisher ridiculous discounts, the publisher publishes scandalous books (in terms of product quality).”
And this diagnosis, given ruthlessly as befits a good doctor, is followed by a precise indication of the path to take:
“Changing the business model means diving into and believing in the technological innovation that in the communications field offers increasingly significant opportunities for work and efficiency, the thought economy is the only sector that is growing. Seizing the opportunity of digital technology that overcomes any distribution barrier of the book product in the world in order to internationalize our culture. In Italy we have a cultural heritage unparalleled by any other; we’re sitting on a gold mine, and enhancing its value in the world is an extraordinary opportunity that digital technologies offer us.”
There is a problem, however, and Lupetti’s reflection closes on this, as if inviting others into a discussion in order to find a solution:
“The problem is that the publishers don’t have their own resources to contend with a new business model for the book, let alone the capability to join together and form a system, and thus they cannot take advantage of the opportunity offered by the crisis and digital technology.”
And so what should we do? I have a few ideas, but I’d rather hear yours for now: I’m all ears!