European booksellers in disruptive times

Book publishing is experiencing many disruptive forces and high street bookstores need to adapt if they are to survive.

Ongoing disruption

Writing about the growth of the ebook marketplace in the US, consumer analyst Michael Wolf describes the digital publishing marketplace as the fastest moving he has ever encountered.    His predictions for the rapid growth of ebooks in the US mirror the predictions made for the global market published by O'Reilly in October 2011 (and summarised here). 

The industry is facing disruption at all points in its creation and supply chain, from the way that authors create content to the ways in which readers interact with what is 'published' - and create communities with other readers.  Wolf describes "the biggest change in publishing since the time of Gutenberg", providing opportunities for some publishers and bringing about the end for those who do not adapt.

Also affected by disruption are the distributors of the published word.   Traditional bookselling needs to deal with the changes in consumers' buying habits - increasingly online - and the increased importance of ebooks. 

FNAC's new focus

The French retailer FNAC (which also has stores in several other European countries as well as Brazil) has announced a fall in turnover in 2011 and has stated it is to embark on cost cutting measures including some job cuts.  The company is also considering whether it should remain in Italy.  Its longer term strategy is to focus on increasing the number of outlets in France and other countries and in developing 'family focus' stores offering among other things, internet access.

Multichannel approaches

Germany's largest bookstore chain, Thalia, is also in the news.  As reported in Publishing Perspectives, there are rumours that Douglas Holding, which owns the bookstores, is evaluating its portfolio.  Thalia launched its own ereader in 2011 and is doing well with its digital sales.  Its latest overall sales revenues are up by 3.2% with online sales accounting for 14% of its total revenue.  Sales in the bookstores (located in Austria, Germany and Switzerland), declined by 1.5%

Thalia's response, combining improvements to its physical stores with an investment in online capability have enabled it to survive and grow in a difficult market.  The story for smaller retailers is less certain.  The number of independent bookstores in the UK has declined steadily over the last three years. In autumn last year the owner of an independent bookstore in the UK called the high street 'a goner'.  The Derwent Bookstore closed, citing competition from supermarkets, the trend to online shopping and the general state of the economy as contributing to the death of high street stores.

Another bookstore in the news

Meanwhile, the UK bookstore chain Waterstones has found itself at the centre of a mini media storm following its decision to drop its apostrophe.  Its company representatives have found themselves explaining the 'apostrophegate' decision to print and broadcast journalists, thus gaining much media exposure for a high street bookseller.

Photo by Kodomut via Flickr.