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Diagnostic Analytics: The publishing industry

I have been a member of the Indiana Historical Society Publications Committee for many years.  It advises on the books and periodicals (like Traces magazine) that the Society puts out, which are highly professional and interesting. The publications receive good support from donors who underwrite children’s and adult history books and then these books are sold through traditional means, like the I HS History Market store downtown and at book conferences.  I consider the editors and staff at the Historical Society Press as friends as well as co-workers in the fields of preserving Indiana history for the future and acquainting the public with our state’s rich heritage.

At a recent meeting a member of this committee who is in the business world asked this question: Does the Historical Society utilize diagnostic analytics? What is the algorithm you are using?

It stopped all of us in our tracks. I, as a small regional press editor and they as long-time historians were confronted with a methodology that we might have only distant knowledge of. What the gentleman was referring to was the utilization of data amassed through such agencies as Microsoft Cloud to predict trends in business and the results of planning strategies and then the application of such analysis to future planning for success. I know that’s not a scientific definition, but I think in general that is what is referred to.

We in the book industry have been doing this for a while now in a different, maybe old-fashioned Charles Dickens era way and I have even utilized the technique in giving workshops. There are trends we have to look at statistically and they are available on the internet. So—what can it do to help us do books about history that get into the hands of readers? It does give one pause.

We can know (diagnose) that 40% of books today are “Indie” books, that is owned by their authors and put out generally as e-books, a radical departure from the old “Charles Dickens” formula of writing a book, going to a publishing company through an agent or “over the transom” to get your book into many of the tens of thousands of bookstores across America. These books, often in ebook form, are sold without bookstores generally—through the new media.  A website called “Author Earnings” shows how the “Big Five” traditional publishers in America are losing shares of sales in several ways and the decline continues every year. Amazon has no real competition not only for books but in merchandising generally. That means the old formula of companies putting out nice print books for places like Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble to sell them in a bricks and mortar store (as happened with our company in the 1990s) is—on the skids if not dead.

Where have the independent bookstores in America gone? The answer is into the pages of history. Waldenbooks really built our first publishing company, Guild Press. We won awards for our books at Walden’s, we travelled to Stanford, Connecticut to present our books to corporate headquarters. And they bought, thousands of our books. That chain has been gone for a couple of decades. And its successor, Border’s is gone with the wind too.

Not all bookstores are dead, though. Actually, some analysts see a trend for a little vitality in small bookstores with cozy nooks, coffee bars and entertainment, in short, with personality!  A site called “New Pages” lists twenty in Indiana, with interesting names and I am certain a dedicated, modest clientele. In Indianapolis the three stores that are still active are Book Mamas in Irvington, Kids Ink, a longtime children’s bookstore and a part of Indy Reads, a used and some new book operation downtown. The faltering Barnes and Noble chain is looking at opening smaller, boutique type store under their management that goes in and out through a revolving door. Still, people are buying books, that is clear, and we wonder how that affects the historical book market. It’s definitely worth our “analyzing” and finding an algorithm, whatever that is.

by Senior Editor Nancy Baxter

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