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"Highlights from FBF 2023"

Is Technology Fatigue Holding Publishers Back?


If the CEO Roundtable at BookExpo is any indicator, publishers are still focusing on traditional channels in which to reach readers. As Shelf Awareness reported, “[Macmillan CEO John] Sargent agreed that the ‘long-term health of the industry’ was good, but said he thought that in the coming years publishers will face ‘some serious issues’ pertaining to ‘changing consumer buying behaviors.’ As consumers shop more and more online, it will be harder for them to discover books; Sargent argued that what publishers need to protect is ’”lots and lots of shelf space’ in which customers can browse and discover books.”

Unlike other content industries — music, film, and television, which have embraced the discovery tools and companies (Spotify, Netflix, Hulu) that have helped them find both tried-and-true and new audiences using AI discovery tools, books and readers have yet to embrace that technology. Other than subscription models and the Amazon algorithm, there have been few ways that the publishing industry is really exploring discovery via AI.

Is that due to a lack of understanding of the changing marketplace? Or unwillingness to give up on existing channels and modes of discovery? Or is it something to do with how readers discover books?

Traditionally, discovery has been about browsing a bookshop, as Sargent noted; seeing an enticing cover, reading the flyleaf, scanning the first page. Today, that isn’t the speed at which the world works and traffic to bookstores isn’t what it once was. We need new discovery tools and a way to connect to readers where they are — on their computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Discovery isn’t the only place in which publishers continue to follow traditional channels. Back-end systems for workflow and rights management continue to be maintained in older methods. AI can help speed up time-consuming processes and provide better record-keeping, but what is slowing publishers down is something else that is going on — technology fatigue.

For the past 11 years since the Kindle turned the world on its ear, the centuries old industry of the printed word has been trying to play catch-up to the ever-changing consumer. Every year, there are new tools, new channels, new ways of consuming content, and new perspectives on the industry. Are publishers just exhausted by the ideas and want to revert to old ways?


At April’s Book Industry Study Group annual meeting, Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing, and BISG chair discussed the challenges the book industry is facing as technology continues to impact it. When blockchain came up, she joked, “I’m not ready to think about it.”

And yet, as much as some of these sales channels and discovery tools and systems still work, publishing can be doing better if they just embrace some tools that can make jobs simpler and connect to readers more directly.

Our customers who have taken a chance on our product suite have seen a 40% increase in efficiency in the publishing process. Buying back that time in the day, freeing up staff to work on other projects, and speeding books and journals to the marketplace to meet growing demand, can help a publisher increase revenue dramatically. So, while the ever-changing technological landscape can sometimes be daunting and exhausting, it is worth the struggle for publishers to embrace these changes, adapt, and take control of their own future.

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