Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Will The Rich Save Book Publishing?

Imagine if one rich person decided to run a book publishing company. Oddly, there are few major book publishers that are owned by a single individual, though one might say Rupert Murdoch's News Corp comes close in its ownership of Harper Collins and Jeff Bezos in his ownership of Amazon. But imagine if book publishing were like the old newspaper business, where a handful of powerful individuals controlled the news.

Who would make a good publisher? The richest men know how to make money but would they know how to be great publishers?  It seems like wealth and publishing don't go together.

Bill Gates is worth $81 billion. Warren Buffett is at $67 billion. Larry Ellison is worth $50 billion and the Koch brothers are each worth $42 billion. Five people have over a quarter trillion dollars in their net worth. Any one of them-- or any combination of them could alter the landscape of book publishing.

Book publishing is an industry ripe for takeovers. It needs innovators and people with passion and vision. The industry can’t just be Amazon and everyone else. It is much more than that.

The problem when one individual – like a company – gets too much power in an industry such as book publishing, is that the person or company starts to exert that power to the point it crushes healthy competition. The last thing I would want to see is one voice, betting too much attention, but seeing successful businesspeople come in and transform the industry would be refreshing.

The book industry is not like many others. It sells a product but the product is not a widget – it is words, ideas, feelings, experiences, desires, facts, and fantasies. Books not only inspire, inform, enlighten and educate – they form the basis of our understanding of the world. Books represent a dialogue that we have indirectly with one another. Through books, we come to see things we never would see, think about, or even feel. They open us up to other worlds, even ones that don’t exist or are long gone.

I read the other day that something like 90 percent of children in the 350 lowest-performing public schools in NYC can’t read at their grade level. What an utter failure! Surely this can be improved upon. I think if book publishing truly partnered with households and schools we would find a way to dramatically improve our reading and literacy rates. Could Bill Gates or Warren Buffett be the ones to lead this?

Perhaps instead of looking at supersized bookstores we start to look at creating mini-bookstores inside of existing stores and spaces, the way a newsstand or a Dunkin’ Donuts builds little outposts in office buildings. Too many communities don’t have a bookstore within a five to ten-mile radius of their home or office. They should always be near books. Sure people can order books online but they also need visual and physical reminders right in their neighborhood. People need to touch and be up close with books. Even for those who buy ebooks or order physical books online, they would welcome public places that showcase books. Could a wealthy businessman figure out a way to open these book kiosks?

Or maybe we need a Buffett or Ellison to simply invest in existing places where books are offered – libraries, Barnes and Noble, and independent bookstores. Maybe they can help subsidize the industry in some way.  What is needed is for new outlets or ways for people to learn about books. Book review space in newspapers is dwindling and the avalanche of online reviews overwhelms us. We need an authoritative service to help catalog, review and recommend books. Could a billionaire create such a system?

Money can impact our lives in so many different ways and it surely could revamp the way the book industry currently addresses the needs of the country. One billionaire could step forward and make a huge difference. Who will it be – and what will they do?

Those with money will get involved if they think money is to be made, if they believe something new can be done that will be profitable, if something can be done better than the competition, if something can be created that fills a need and creates a demand. But until entreprenurship meets publishing, we can only dream about the day when the nation snuffs out illiteracy, provides more revenue to the content creators, and elevates books above other forms of entertainment and information gathering.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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