When we look back at this period the name of the villainous virus will be etched on our collective memories. Hopefully, alongside memories of the heroes who raged against it. But among businesses, sectors and markets, we may struggle to identify winners. Bricks and mortar retail, hospitality, and tourism being just some of the casualties. So, it’s heart-warming to learn of others that, through agility and the use of technology, continue to thrive. Like some flavours of publishing.
The publishing backdrop
2019 was a great year for book sales. Print, digital and audiobooks together accounted for a 4% uplift on 2018 figures, and 20% on those recorded in 2015. The industry was said to be flourishing with 2019 cited as “being the strongest year in the history of publishing.”1
Then came COVID
The virus hit our shores and as the Publishing Association’s Stephen Lotinga summarised, “Booksellers have had to close shops, authors have had to move publication dates and cancel events, freelancers have seen their work and incomes shrink.”2
Did we ever need books more?
Data from SEMRush confirms, as you might expect, that health-related Internet searches have been pervasive. But leisure and hobby categories have also seen increased popularity. As people adapted to lockdown and excess leisure time to be spent at home, the demand for books and literature grew some 16% in Q1 alone.3 Because, as Lotinga puts it, “many people have continued to look to books for solace, enlightenment and entertainment”.
The role of ecommerce
If there’s stuff you want/need and you can’t venture out to get it, where do you go? To the web, of course. Bernard Chung, SAP’s Global head of Product Marketing, describes the impact of COVID-19 on ecommerce as being like “an unplanned “Black Friday” event” with 2020 order volumes plateauing in week 13 at 63.6% higher than in week 84. But if you think that only means Amazon, think again.
Data courtesy of The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience (2020)
The rise of self-publishing
Platforms like Lulu have been providing writers with the tools they need to design and format books for some years. In doing so they helped break down publishing’s barriers to entry. Self-publishing has gone mainstream. Nowadays, it’s a much broader church and includes personalised kids’ books (e.g. “My Given Name” and “Lego Ninjago – search and find”) as well as titles such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” which you might be shocked to learn started life this way.
The supply chain response
There continues the growing sophistication of printing equipment, the ramping up by many Print Service Providers (PSPs) of their print-on-demand (POD) capacity,5 and the integration of ecommerce platforms with print workflows. Not just for books, but for any print where small volumes or speed to market are critical.
Print-to-order (PTO) takes that even further. An end-to-end supply chain solution which connects the content from publishers to the PSP, who then ships directly to the consumer resulting in zero- inventory, just-in-time production, risk and storage free publishing. Because if the demand for reading materials exists, and the retail outlets are closed, who better to step into the breach?
What of the future?
Who knows? But McKinsey talks about acceleration6. That those businesses succeeding immediately prior to the pandemic and throughout it are likely to see this success accelerate. And for the gap between them and their competitors to widen because, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has remarked, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”