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September 12th, 2016

From publisher to bookseller

Where does publishing end and bookselling begin? As digital technology transforms the industry and direct-to-consumer sales grow, the boundaries between the two things are increasingly blurred.

It is part of a shake-up of publishing that has completely disrupted the normal order of things. Where once the roles of different constituents of the books business were clear, now they are fluid. Authors have become self-publishers and distributors, and some bookshops have expanded into local publishing too. And more and more publishers are going the other way – selling more of their books themselves.

The business case for doing so is clear. Selling direct gives publishers the chance to get closer to their end-users than ever before, and to take charge of their margins. It provides the freedom to sell content in whatever format and medium publishers wish, and gives them more control of their operations than some thought possible.

But while it makes perfect sense for publishers to sell direct, many remain reluctant to commit fully to a retail operation – or to even try it. Why? One reason is a fear of the impact that it might have on the retailers who already sell their books. Publishers can be reluctant to enter into competition with people who generate a large proportion of their sales, and wary of upsetting internet retailers in particular by encroaching on their territory with e-commerce websites of their own. Pricing, and the question of whether or not to match or undercut existing retailers’ selling prices (or whether they are even permitted to), adds to the dilemma here.

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