On Tuesday 10 January Michael Pietsch, CEO of the Hachette Group, addressed the Book Industry Guild of New York at their annual president’s night meeting. His talk was wide-ranging and fascinating. Mr Pietsch is unusual among heads of trade houses in having come up through the editorial side of the business: he still edits a couple of books each year. One interesting initiative he alluded to at Hachette was the preparation of a financial education course for employees. It is always desirable for people to understand the business rationale behind their activities, and to appreciate their own place in the enterprise which eventually has to show some kind of profit. We all need to recognize that, for all our focus on our particular function, we are part of a huge team effort.
One of the — inevitable — topics was e-books. Mr Pietsch speculated that the reason why the digital revolution seemed not to have made as transformative a difference in the book business as it had in music and television might be that whereas digitization finally made music and television portable, books had always been portable. After digitization, if you wanted to listen to music you were no longer confined to the living room where your stereo was set up (or earlier still, the concert hall). You could take it with you. Books had always managed this trick, and so digitization has made less of a difference in our business. This does seem to have a certain plausibility as a partial cause at least. While we can never be sure about what’ll happen tomorrow, it does look like the initial flurry of interest in e-books has cooled off a bit. In Europe, where discounted is discouraged by governments, e-books represent about 8% of the book market. In the USA they appear to have settled at 25% or so. (As ever I have to state that these reflections refer to the traditional publishing market. Self publishing continues to grow, and undoubtedly will find the e-book its handiest format for a long time.)