Friday, May 05, 2006

Walmart and the Publisher

After talking with a publisher about my last post about the technical publishing market, I have some additional thoughts

Brick and mortar retailers come in four varieties — big box stores, mom & pops, boutique stores, and farmers markets.

  • Big box stores (like Wal-Mart) leverage their size to reduce costs and provide wide range of products of a consistent (and presumed lower level of) quality with a consistent level of service to their customers at a (presumed) low price.
  • Mom & pop stores are a part of the community and rely on that relationship to provide the variety and quality of products and services that the community wants at a price the community will bear.
  • Boutique shops provide high end or hard-to-find products to a community, often at a (perceived) premium price.
  • Farmers markets provide a meeting place where community members buy and sell the goods that they've produced to one another.

Publishers can be broadly lumped into four similar classes:

  • There are larger publishers who cater to a broad range of technical areas, specializing on getting a broad selection of titles to market quickly and keeping their prices down. This group is similar to the big box stores. The "big three" from my last post (Apress, O'Reilly, and Wrox) fit into this group — and no, I'm not calling anyone the Wal-Mart of the tech publishing world.
  • There are smaller publishers who work hard to be a part of the communities they cater to, and are similar to the mom & pop stores above. The Pragmatic Programmers are the best example of this category.
  • There are specialty presses that trade on their reputation to sell their product, often with some additional cachet because of the name. This class corresponds to boutique stores. 37 Signals seems fit into this group.
  • The last group are the self-publishing authors and companies who sell (or sometimes give away) their materials to other members of the communities they belong to, these are like the people behind the tables at your local farmers market. This blog (among others, cafe press stores, etc.) is an example of this model.

What does all of this mean? I think that the class a publisher belongs to has a lot to do with the way it perceives a community (and is perceived by that community). That perception colors the decisions the publisher makes about what to publish, how to market, and how to approach the community. Over the next week or so I'm going to write about each of the four kinds of publishers.

In the meantime, this leaves me with some questions that I don't have answers to:

  • How does the class of publisher affect its sales?
  • Can a publisher straddle classes?
  • If you're a publisher and can only pick one class, which one do you shoot for?
  • If you're a consumer, what kind of publisher do you want to support?
Let me know what you think. I'm pretty sure there is another post or two hiding in there.

This post is part of a collection of articles about Publishing, Growing Markets, and Books.

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