“Born Again or Born Digital” – The State of Publishing Today

Joe Esposito, who blogs at “Scholarly Kitchen”, has a knack of distilling the influx issues in the tumultuous world of publishing. This most recent blog post is particularly helpful in making sense of the upheaval and seeing some patterns emerge.

To quote a bit:

“While one would be hard-pressed to find any publisher who does not view digital media as a central strategic concern, we have reached a critical point in the evolution of publishing – henceforth, no one who starts a new publishing company is likely to be thinking of the world of print.

New publishing entities from here on are almost certainly going to be Born Digital.
This is a big shift because print is, well, more than print; it’s also an entire ecosystem that has grown up around print. That means no more looking back to see which legacy customers can be grabbed, no fidelity to old partners or ways of doing business.”

And he then gives a useful comparison of the playbooks of the two: Digital Born and Born Again:

“… Compare the playbooks of the Born Again and the Born Digital publishers:

• Identifying A New Market. While Born Again publishers pay lip service to the idea of finding a new market, for the Born Digital, a new market is essential, as it puts them beyond the reach of the established and powerful marketing capabilities of the Born Again. In scholarly communications, one form this takes is the identification of new sources of purchasing power adjacent to legacy purchasers. For example, a Born Again publisher may concentrate on selling materials to academic libraries, while a Born Digital publisher may seek to cultivate faculty as customers.

• Thinking Globally. Although this is not a new outlook for journals publishers, many book publishers continue to operate on a national basis. This requires them to find a sufficient audience in their own territory, whereas a global program can bring in customers from many areas, thus making it easier to get to break even. Both Born Again and Born Digital publishers alike pursue global strategies today, but the Born Digital publisher has the advantage, as its global strategy is unimpeded by relationships forged in the print era.

• Selling Direct. The print world is full of intermediaries, from wholesalers to libraries that stand between a publisher and the end-user or reader. These intermediaries provide an essential role for print. But with low-cost digital distribution, disintermediation becomes possible. It’s much harder for a Born Again publisher to sell direct, as direct sales put a publisher into conflict with established distribution channels. A Born Digital publisher, on the other hand, has no legacy customers and thus no conflict.

• Using Pricing to Disrupt Legacy Expectations. As noted above, aggressive pricing can hamstring larger and better-resourced established publishers regardless of how forcefully they are pursuing their Born Again strategy. Born Again publishers typically try to charge as much as the market will bear, but Born Digital publishers will often charge the minimum necessary in order to build market share. A strategy based on price works best in direct-to-consumer markets.

• Identifying New Fields. This is an editorial issue: What are the growing areas to work in? Some fields are well-established and not likely to make room for newcomers. New fields may also be small and not deliver the return on investment that the Born Again publisher requires. But for the Born Digital publisher, all the negatives associated with a new field are transformed into positives, as there is not likely to be competition from established publishers.

• Investing in Print Infrastructure. Instructive is the example of Born Digital OR Books, founded by two veterans of trade publishing. OR (named for founders John Oakes and Colin Robinson) uses digital technology to bring books to market rapidly and has a network of suppliers for print on demand, but when an OR title gets hot and can benefit from the legacy distribution channels of trade publishing, the company licenses rights to established trade houses.

• Sizing the Organization. Born Digital publishers try to stay as small and lean as possible, as this gives them flexibility and the ability to underprice established publishers. When Born Again publishers attempt to attack their cost structure, they often fail, as they may cut out essential services that their legacy customers have come to expect from them.”


That 2011 is going to be an accelerated shake-up to the Born Again and the Digitally Born is a certainty.



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