2016 Book Business News In Review

Jonathan KanterAshley GordonGrace HongThe word of the year for publishing in 2016 was data. It was such a big year for data, in fact, that it’s always called, “Big Data.” As publishers remake themselves into information providers for the digital age, they will likely need to abandon the old notion of content as their product.

At the annual conference in Washington, DC, of the Professional/Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Division of the Association of American Publishers. I heard Grace Hong, vice president of strategic markets and development and general manager of learning solutions for Wolters Kluwer’s tax and accounting division, urge her publishing colleagues to push boldly toward the marketplace that big data has opened up. Later, she told me that the most valuable data of all is information about the customer.

What distinguishes publishing from many industries is how editors and executives actively look beyond making a profit to addressing the challenge of making a difference. “Making Information Pay” is the annual springtime occasion for the Book Industry Study Group to explore the latest issues in publishing, and for attendees to learn how the latest technologies can drive success. In May 2016, Mockingbird Publishing founder Ashley Gordon led a panel that noted the long history among publishers to promoting literacy. The recent rise of cause marketing, she explained in our interview, is leading the industry to expanding its do-gooder efforts in creative and often dramatic ways.

In 2016, if you attended any publishing industry trade shows or conferences, you likely heard speakers delivering unnerving wake-up calls to anyone who’d listen. They’d describe a business in a state of revolution and even apocalypse. We even have heard about the four horsemen – Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook – all riding in to destroy our world.

Yet as we approach the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president, calls by publishers to pursue Amazon particularly as a monopoly will not likely move the Dept. of Justice to move against the e-commerce giant.

When I spoke with antitrust attorney Jonathan Kanter at the 2016 Digital Book World Conference, I inquired about the wisdom of seeking government intervention where freedom of expression, creativity, and speech are concerned. He offered his view that monopolistic business practices can stifle those very important ethical values.

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