Carolyn Reidy addressed publishers at the Evangelical Christian Publisher's Association CEO Symposium and Publishing University in Illinois last week. She stated that because of a combination of things "significant decrease in retail traffic, less consumer purchasing, a gloomy economic forecast, declining backlist sales, brand name authors continuing to sell but 'everything else is far off normal levels,' and retail partners who demand more favorable terms and concessions 'as if we are the answer to their problems…'"
Reidy suggested trying to eliminate returns (not customer returns by retailers returning books to publishers) and a "consortium model for the distribution part of the supply chain." She noted that marketing would need to change. "[N]ow we have the chance to actually find the reader where they are spending their time—in front of a screen—and cement a relationship with them through e-mail newsletters, viral marketing, mobile delivery and other tools.”
Other interesting things Reidy pondered was the threat of self publishing. When would a major author go out on his or her own. Distribution is always a problem for self published authors but could a major brand name author take the 60-70% royalty she's giving to the publisher and use that to advertise and sell her own self published books? It's an article worth reading.
Can publishers harness print on demand, digital services, and other technologically advanced business practices to meet the changing economy? One thing I've thought would be smart would be for publishers to buy a number of digital readers and loan them to reviewers (taking a credit card number for deposit/security purposes) and then send the reviewers efile copies of review copies. Publishers spend an enormous amount of money on postage and printing for review copies and print marketing materials that it would represent a net savings for them. Digitizing their inventories can present a win for the print side of publishers by providing print on demand capabilities for any book for which the publisher holds a copyright license. I'm sure that there are other ways in which publishers can trim the fat without reducing quality or content.