Guide posts for the book market

Steinbeis consults on the restructuring of SPIEGEL’s bestseller list

Although, to date, the e-book has only achieved 2% market share in Germany, the "digital revolution" is certainly gaining wind. The electronic book is changing the way the industry sees itself and is pushing publishers to start looking for the business model of tomorrow. These days, publishing houses and authors can only really make money if they produce their works on a grand scale, globally. The fusion of large publishers underscores the power shifts taking place on the worldwide book market. Even in Germany, it is becoming increasingly difficult for publishers to get their books to retailers and into the hands of the masses. One of the most important guide posts for readers struggling with the jungle of book titles on offer is the SPIEGEL bestseller list. Steinbeis Media Publishing & Management consulted the company on its 2012 list of paperback titles.

The SPIEGEL bestseller list – which is based on sales figures – can be found in every bookshop and is used by retailers to determine the contents of their bestseller shelves. Authors whose works rank among the top 15 list entries can rest assured of their success. In addition to the list for top hardcover books, in Germany, there has always been a separate list for paperback publications. Both lists were subdivided into fiction and nonfiction publications. But in the last few years, more and more paperbacks made it onto the list for hardcover hits. From a purely technical viewpoint, paperbacks were defined as large softcover books with two additional folding elements. Lower prices of paperbacks – up to €5 less compared to hardcovers – in addition to a more modern appeal have made them the more popular option among readers. As paperbacks became the success story for contemporary book retailers, SPIEGEL’s hardcover bestseller list lost its standing as a reliable guide for customers.

Pressure from retailers and a number of publishers prompted SPIEGEL to update its approach to producing its list. The criteria publishers had to meet to make it onto the list hadn’t been very clear. And no one really knew where paperbacks fit in. The paperback is very popular among young, less-known authors and young readers, but sales figures in this market segment are so high that new authors producing paperback works don’t have much of a chance of making the bestseller list. A workshop lasting several days resulted in the new (third) paperback list. Working with Steinbeis Media Publishing & Management as an impartial party and know-how provider, the criteria for all three lists were revamped from the perspective of the reader. These criteria take new book forms into account, so that readers can distinguish between various formats and evaluate them better. The hardcover and paperback lists only contain German-language first editions that meet the newly defined criteria. "If retailers now adequately present the paperback list, there are good chances for instilling a new appreciation for works in which paperbacks and, more significantly, e-books are better differentiated," explains Michael Köhnlein, managing director of Steinbeis Media Publishing & Management.

But what happens to titles that will never make the bestseller list? For example, all of the specialist publications and guidebooks that deliver specialist knowledge to smaller target groups? Retail’s tendency to gradually concentrate on top-selling titles leads to only potential bestsellers being available in shops. Specialist books are increasingly only available from online booksellers. And even there, these are often available in such limited numbers with such high retail markups, that even seasoned publishers are pushing the boundaries of what is financially feasible. Do specialist publications with an edition of 10,000 copies still have a chance in the future? Yes, they do – thanks to new marketing strategies. Steinbeis Media Publishing & Management doesn’t just consult media companies. It also works with specialist publishers. Printed books and e-books are offered via standard retail channels, but new sales routes which allow a large part of an edition to be brought to the customer without going through the trade are also being sought after. The new concept allows specialist authors to transfer their knowledge to third parties through their own publishing company, thus avoiding the pains of going through the cost-intensive machinery of traditional publishing houses. The Steinbeis name is a hallmark of quality – one that Steinbeis Media delivers in terms of content as well as in its professional dealings with authors and the professional marketing of specialist content.

Meanwhile, Steinbeis Media will shortly be coming out with its own first publication. Together with author Stefan Renz, it has written a training book for startup entrepreneurs that doesn’t cover the usual questions surrounding the business plan or legal aspects, but instead highlights the personal development of the entrepreneur. What’s more, it addresses the most important question: "Do I have what it takes to be in business?"


Michael Köhnlein
Steinbeis Media Publishing & Management (Altusried)

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