Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Book Industry Strategy Group: PwC's Report on the Industry

This is from the Department's website:

In undertaking its deliberations, the BISG commissioned a number of major research and consultation projects. The primary research project, the Market Analysis Research Report  [PDF 1296KB] [RTF 30MB] provided the BISG with an analysis of the Australian industry and a review of its competitiveness against parallel industries in other major English speaking markets.

The Market Analysis report was prepared by accounting and business consultancy firm PwC, and it has just been released.

It's 130 pages in length, and will take you about six hours to read and absorb. Don't bother. It's not worth it. Just read the first 30 pages which nicely bring together much statistical data on the book industry available from a wide variety of sources, and it's absolutely up to date (including 2010) and superbly presented.

After that come long sections on ebooks and their growth prospects; overall industry competitiveness; global opportunities; and a very peculiar final section on 'Business Models'. None of these are worth reading. They re-hash old chestnuts, serving up as insightful and new such tired cliches like this: 'The fragmented nature of Australia's book distribution system, and a lack of universal standards, imposes additional costs on the wholesale price of books, and results in lengthy delivery times'. (Hello, 1999!)

And there's really helpful stuff like this: 'The ebook market in Australia is projected to reach between $150 million and $700 million in 2014, representing between 6 per cent and 24 per cent of total estimated book sales'.

To anyone who's been in this industry for a while, and who had to stomach, even participate in, godawful stuff like Accenture's report on the industry in 2001 (it was so bad it was good!), much of PwC's report will sound familiar. There's the all-pervasive naivety for starters. Then the sheer ignorance, which is inexcusable given there happen to be quite a few people from all sectors of the industry who could have sounded howler alerts along the way. Here's an example: 'There would appear merit [sic] for Australian publishers to pool their undertaking international market development that benefits the book industry as a whole. Such instances of international market development may include [drum roll..] attendance at international book fairs'. 

We also get an enormous amount of confusion - different issues jammed together that are of different orders of magnitude. For instance the 'inefficiencies in Australia's book distribution system' comes before the Parallel Importation Restrictions in forcing up prices, when such inefficiencies could only be adding '$0.40 to $1.00 to the unit cost of a book'.

On the fabled PIR's we get this fearless assault: 'On the weight of the available evidence, we conclude there is a conceptual case that the PIRs do have an impact on the value of wholesale book prices in Australia. The exact magnitude of this impact, is however, difficult to ascertain..'

The report is very weak when it comes to industry collaboration. It presumes there's virtually none of it. It references related creative industries both in Australia and overseas where players have come together to build common and online platforms - Freeview (TV), MOVE (outdoor advertising), (UK book industry) - without mentioning at all, throughout the whole report, TitlePage or Pacstream or the many other standards, systems and protocols that have been part of the industry for decades. 

So this is a lame effort. The stats are good but the rest is worthless.