I met today with the CEO and Editor in Chief of a well regarded publisher in NY (where else?). Their market is primarily the Orthodox Jewish English speaking market – probably mostly North America and Israel.
These fellows have been in the business for decades and really know their stuff. The CEO raised a question which I found very interesting. It was something like this: “If the Orthodox Jewish community is growing at the rapid rate everyone says it is, and everyone is “having 9 kids, who then go and have 9 kids, why are we often selling less books than we did 20 years ago? What is cannibalizing Jewish publishing?”
Good questions. This CEO pointed to some culprits which, in his opinion, are responsible for sales shrinking for at least some titles:
1. The incredible success of Orthodox Jewish publishing. Success might be a problem in this case. Over the past few decades there has been an explosion in the number of books published with Orthodox readers in mind. There are so many new titles, reprints and classics that an average consumer can’t buy them all. So even if more books are being purchased these days, others will be getting left at the store and in bigger numbers than in the past when there were less choices.
2. Libraries – many people are using the library for getting new books rather than purchasing them. While not a new phenomenon, the impact seems greater than in the past.
3. The “new” Orthodox Jewish media – in the Orthodox Jewish English reading “world” there are now 2 hugely popular weekly magazines which didn’t exist 10 years ago (Mishpacha and Ami) and a large, almost national newspaper, Hamodia, (in addition to scores of local papers). One can argue about exactly which magazines and newspapers people are reading – but the massive growth and popularity of this media is self-evident.
As the CEO put it “the magazines are packed with news, stories and the serials which keep a family busy and talking for days and they cost about $5….so why buy a book? It is content, content, content. But not from books.” In the general market, content which “substitutes” for books is more of the on-line variety. But the impact on the publishing world may be similar.
It has become a truism that for Orthodox Jews, who do not use computers or e-book readers on the Sabbath or most holidays, there will always be a place for books. Yet, if magazines are filling the need for reading content, and libraries can provide books for free to those who want them – what happens to book publishing?
We discussed how it seems clear (to us, at least) that it is in the public interest that publishers bring out books. Is it possible to encourage consumers to consider and get behind this? Can consumers become supporters of book publishing because they see it as a good thing, sort as some people “support the arts”?