As part of knk’s continuing series of interviews with thought leaders serving the book publishing industry and its supporting communities, we recently interviewed Jeremy Brinton of Maverick Publishing Specialists Inc., a global consulting firm and leading provider to the publishing industry. Mr. Brinton is the primary author of Maverick’s excellent report (https://www.maverick-os.com/covid-19-pulse-check-report/) on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the publishing industry, published in July 2020.
Free to download, the report was created after detailed interviews and anonymous surveys with publishing executives in the trade and academic sectors in the UK, and with the support of The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (www.alpsp.org) and the Publishers Association (https://www.publishers.org.uk/. It’s clear however, that despite the initial report being focused on the UK industry, the vast majority of their findings are equally applicable to North America, which is hardly surprising in these days of global markets, global operations and global businesses.
This initial Maverick report received enthusiastic reviews on social media, with hundreds of downloads and shares.
The research confirmed that publishers of all sizes are facing unprecedented disruption and change. The pace and scale of the change has been vast, prompting a new ‘work-from-home’ normal, in addition to widespread furloughs, print-based content being offered in digital form, supply chain disruptions, budget adjustments, and, specifically in the academic and educational arena, pricing and access model challenges. To be clear, the picture is not entirely negative – with many digital strategies now evolving more quickly and traditional workflows becoming more flexible. And by taking advantage of these opportunities to better connect with customers, publishers are discovering that the pandemic may well lead to new revenue models, more creativity and an evolved work environment.
Technology is playing a significant role in building an agile growth infrastructure for the future. “Assessing their legacy systems and their levels of investment in the short and medium term, should be a priority for publishers in driving that agility and resilience” Mr. Brinton said. “This applies to ecommerce for example, and there are numerous supply chain partners, both inside and outside of the publishing industry, that may offer valuable facilities for growth”. Among other recommendations from Maverick to address these issues are calls for more automated seamless platforms and improved efficiencies in production and sales.
According to Maverick’s analysis, only 55% of the studied publishers felt prepared for logistical changes when COVID hit, and most were forced to respond on the fly. Much of this can be attributed to systems and supply chain issues and a lack of a digital offering. Mr. Brinton noted that almost 90% of the publishers interviewed had made significant changes to operations since the onset of the pandemic, largely regardless of the sector, although the short-term impact on educational and academic publishers was more severe than trade. For trade, planned book launches were delayed into an already crowded fall season, but universities faced serious challenges of deferred enrollment, and restrictions on travel for foreign students, causing declines in revenues of more than 75% in some cases, which obviously has a corresponding effect on the presses who, at least in the Anglo-American model, are mostly subsidized by their respective colleges and universities.
Summarizing the question of which sectors are most at risk, Mr. Brinton said this. “There’s no question that universities and colleges are facing a severe impact from the pandemic and the economy of the higher education market in particular, will be affected for some time to come, and subsequent declines in research output may well follow. Trade has slightly different risks, mostly associated with the transformation to digital”.
Mr. Brinton noted that many of the challenges that publishers reported, they were already facing, but that they were accelerated by the pandemic, including the transition to digital, which has been relatively slow in the industry as a whole. Larger academic and education publishers who are vested in digital content creation are more advanced in this transition. Mr. Brinton had also observed anecdotal evidence of moves to the outsourcing of infrastructure and more general efforts to convert fixed to variable costs.
As publishers pick up the pieces and look at the long–term impacts, “maintaining the status quo and sitting still is not an option. Publishers should look at themselves as content producers, and should use this time to engage more closely with customers, to obtain and use data that will help define the evolution of product roadmaps and drive business transformation.”.
knk Software (https://www.knkpublishingsoftware.com/) is a global software solutions provider focused solely on the publishing and media industry with over 450 customers on three continents.
Jeremy Brinton is Senior Associate at Maverick Publishing Specialists and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.maverick-os.com Maverick provides strategic consulting and operational outsource services for the publishing industry and is comprised of publishing specialists with expertise across all areas of print and electronic information.
John Lawson joined knk to run the UK operation bringing over 25 years’ experience selling and implementing enterprise ERP/CRM software solutions across various sectors including Publishing, Property, and Finance. He is a seasoned professional with considerable experience in the areas of sales, client management, and the software implementation lifecycle. In his career John gained exposure to all aspects of Book, Magazine, Journal, and Digital Publishing; Sales, CRM, Distribution, Credit Management, and Marketing, and his professional skills include Business Development, Pre-sales, Account Management, Software Implementation, Project Management, Systems Analysis, Training, and Customer Service.