“It is still about the Physical Book” – Meeting Scott Coning

January 16th, 2013 by Miriam Knafla | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on “It is still about the Physical Book” – Meeting Scott Coning
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As the semester 1 came to an end, Scott Coning, Managing Director of Better World Books, visited us on the 29th of November as the last speaker of the year to talk about the disrupted book market, the importance of discoverability and the positive prospect that the physical book is not going to die.

“If I leave you with more questions than answers, I’ll have done my job.”

Because that is exactly the state the publishing industry is in right now. Market disruption challenges everyone and nobody knows where we are going. The merger of Penguin Random House shows plainly that even the big players feel challenged and look for ways to survive. Scott proposes that publishers need to reorganise and get flexible; they have to reassure authors that they are worth while, put a lot of effort into meta-data management and guarantee the broadest possible reach for their products. At that, what has to be acknowledged is that every market is different, not just language-wise.

He also advises publishers to combine strengths with their competitors; share content and platforms in order to reach more customers. Furthermore, publishers should try to print as close to the customer as possible and reduce the many handlings of a book in its manufacturing process to the end-customer. Of course, due to such cost-saving measures warehouses have to cut down as not as many books go through. Bookstores, as well, need to reassess what consumers want, at what time and to what price. What is a book worth nowadays? Should content be free?

What he criticises about the online-buying trend is the loss of discoverability. How should customers discover books “when all they have is a search box?” Bookshops are all about the atmosphere, people usually go there in the hope to find a good read. The publishing dilemma is that with fewer bookstores there are fewer show rooms, less face to face enthusiasm and, hence, fewer channels to bring books to the consumer.

The blatant reality is that 72 bookshops closed last year; a trend that is about to deprive entire communities of one of their major and crucial ways to access books.

Scott suggested the idea that e-books are a welcome device to promote more reading. “It is still about the physical book,” though. The challenging question, however, is how to get it to the customer? It is the opportunity for bright minds and innovative thought to give the disrupted industry a new structure.

-Miriam Knafla

“Better World Books collects and sells books online, matching purchases with donations book for book, and contributing a portion of all revenues to literacy initiatives. It recently surpassed $10 million (£6 million) raised for literacy … [Scott] Coning [came] to Better World Books from leading UK book retailer Waterstone’s, where he worked for over 12 years overseeing operations as wide-ranging as customer service, branch management, and business strategy.” (source: Better World Books)