AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Now that we've heard about some current opportunities that e-books offer publishers, we're going to explore what's coming in the near future. We asked Mike Shatzkin to help us out with that. He's the founder and CEO of a publishing industry consulting company called Idea Logical. We begin by talking about one of the big looming stories in the business: the planned merger of publishers Penguin and Random House, which Shatzkin says is huge.
MIKE SHATZKIN: One publisher up till now could not essentially create a bookstore in a drugstore. They wouldn't have enough titles that mattered in order to be able to do that. But Random House and Penguin between them might. Another way they might create additional distribution is through a subscription, an e-book subscription service. Before Random and Penguin merged, no single publisher would have had enough of the most commercial titles to make something like that work. They might.
CORNISH: So is there any chance I might come across a store in the future that sells only books from Penguin-Random House?
SHATZKIN: You will come across stores that will sell books from only Penguin-Random House, but they won't be bookstores. They will be stores that have a little book department that is perfectly adequately serviced for most people purposes by Penguin and Random House.
CORNISH: Now there's another bit of jargon that gets thrown around when people talk about the digital transition in publishing, and that's platforms. And you suggested that new platforms could be a big topic in the coming year. What exactly do you mean by that in plain speak? What kind of platforms are we talking about?
SHATZKIN: What has really caught my attention in platforms is what's going on in children's books. If you want to capture the audience for children's books, then you have to make an environment for reading them that teachers and parents endorse.
So, for example, Scholastic, which has fabulous reach into schools, through teachers, is creating a e-book reading platform called Storia. And Storia is a complete environment - that is, you can find books and ultimately purchase them through Storia, and they provide tools to help parents and teachers oversee their kids' reading.
So if a parent or teacher get a kid reading on Storia, you're not going to be able to get a book to that kid except through Storia. And Storia's not the only platform of its kind. "Reading Rainbow," which is a longstanding television show, has a platform called RRKidz.
Both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are trying to make their Nook and Kindle platforms parent-friendly, giving parents control so that parents will encourage the kids to do all the reading through the platform. And what that means is that power transfers to the platform owner from the individual title or author.
CORNISH: Is there any indication that readers might not like that? I mean, one of the joys of having a book is it doesn't matter what bookstore you get it from. You know, it still works. The book still works.
SHATZKIN: Well, I think you're certainly right that - I mean, obviously there'll be readers that won't join the platforms, and I'm not trying to suggest in any way that they would suddenly have a majority of the readers. But...
CORNISH: But as a reader, would you suddenly then say, I guess I'm never going to get to read a book from this author or that author just because I don't want to join such and such a platform?
SHATZKIN: Well, I think we've already had that experience. You know, 20 years ago, much more than today, there were people that chose their books from what Book of the Month Club offered them. And Book of the Month Club did not offer them books that were Literary Guild main selections because they didn't have rights to them.
And, in fact, in a more subtle way, people shop from what's inside a bookstore. What's inside a bookstore is a small percentage of the total number of books available. Now it's true that some people go to Barnes & Noble once a week. And if they want something that they're not finding there, they can go online at bn.com or Amazon and look through a wider selection. But I think a lot of people shop however they shop, and choose from what's available to them when they shop. And I think people will make that choice and some of them will make it around platforms.
CORNISH: Mike Shatzkin is founder and CEO of a publishing industry consulting company called Idea Logical. Mike Shatzkin, thank you so much for speaking with us.
SHATZKIN: My pleasure.