Work Title: Caravan: New Horizons for Bookselling
Work Author(s): Peter Osnos
Byline: Peter Osnos
Over the years, as an avid consumer of information and entertainment, I have become increasingly aware of my choices.
For movies, there are DVDs and videos, movies on demand, on cable and broadcast. I can own, rent and, oh yes, go to a theater with stadium seating.
For music, there is radio, music on cable, satellites, broadband and MP3s and, oh yes, CDs or dusty old albums.
For news, there are news sites, news aggregators (Google, Yahoo, etc.), RSS, MSNBC, streaming video, and, oh yes, the morning paper.
But somehow, when it came to books, aside from audio on CD, cassette, and MP3, we seemed to be stuck just beyond the starting blocks in taking advantage of evolving technology. eBook category killers have come and gone and the market remained miniscule. Why, I wondered, can't we do the same kind of simultaneous multi-platform release of books that we do with other forms of quality data (i.e. stuff to read)?
As a publisher, I encountered another whole set of issues; summarized by a steadily increasing returns rate of unsold inventory. On most front-list hardcovers, as a publisher serving booksellers from the neighborhood independent to the big box national chains, I would manufacture ten copies of a title to net a sale of six, an egregious waste of money and energy, literal and psychic. The inventory challenge made a hash of publishing economics. Inefficiency---too many of some books, not enough of others---defined the business.
Meanwhile, vast headway was being made in technology that provides book "products" on demand, for sale and delivery on order. The question for the retail arena was whether customers asking for a book could be satisfied by the knowledge that it will be delivered to their home in a day or two. By the late 1990s, Amazon's surging sales, fueled by many factors of price, assortment and convenience, conclusively answered that question with a yes. But most brick and mortar booksellers continued to take the position that customers should be expected to return in a week or so to pick up the book and then pay for it. "I'll see if I can get that book," was the potential customer's thought about my high-end nonfiction," rather than the "I can have it where, when and how I want it" model developing for movies, music and news.
Creating a Non-Profit Collaboration to Explore Multiple Format Technologies
So in the autumn of 2005...