Tech vs. Trees: Olympics publishing breaks records, NYT digital subscriptions could beat print by 2014, Google Books aims to chip away at Amazon sales, retailers and consumers welcome paper catalogs

LOS ANGELES , August 10, 2012 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word:

Tech + Trees: U.S. publishers break records with Olympics books

Not only are U.S. athletes breaking records at the 2012 London Olympics, but so are U.S. publishers, which have brought 120 print and electronic books to market this year, the highest number ever, compared with 109 titles in the year of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, Bowker Market Research reported July 24. According to Bowker VP Kelly Gallagher, “Popular sports combined with big personal medal counts, such as those of Michael Phelps’, adds to the ability of publishers to capitalize on interest surrounding and sparked by the Games.” Just on Phelps alone, 32 books have been published since 2008. Gallagher also noted that new printing technology, such as on-demand printing, allows publishers to prepare titles for the market based on athletes’ performances at the Games. Major publishers are also capitalizing on the Olympics. Rodale Books, along with NBC Sports and NBC Publishing, released on July 27 a kids’ adventure story “Ring Force” in paperback and e-book formats about young athletes battling an evil force.

Tech: Analyst expects NYT digital subscriptions to beat print by 2014

With 530,000 subscribers currently paying for The New York Times’ digital content since the newspaper introduced a paywall in 2011, Barclays analyst Kannan Venkateshwar has projected that digital subscribers will outnumber print subscribers by early 2014, All Things D reported Aug. 6. With yearly digital subscriptions coming in at US$220 and its print counterpart at $730, the profits are comparable given the costs of paper, printing and distribution—provided the newspaper doesn’t offer too many discounts for online subscriptions. Venkateshwar believes that new customers make up most of the digital subscribers, thus generating new revenue for NYT. Earlier this year, the paper reduced its monthly free article limit to 10 from 20—which Peter Kafka of All Things D said is due to both the necessity of increasing digital sales and the confidence that more readers will pay for content. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation’s latest figures for the six months ended March 31, NYT is No. 3 in U.S. average weekday circulation at 1.6 million, behind No. 1 The Wall Street Journal and No. 2 USA Today.

Tech: Google aimed to chip away at Amazon via massive book-scanning project

Google’s primary goal for scanning millions and millions of books was as simple as chipping away at Amazon’s business, according to an Aug. 3 court filing by the Authors Guild, which cited 9-year-old internal documents from Google. For seven years, the guild and Google have battled in court over the Internet giant’s book-scanning project, which aims to create the world’s largest digital library. So far that effort has amounted to 20 million books scanned and US$180 million spent, paidContent reported Aug. 6. Publishers Weekly reported on the same day that 4 million of those books are protected by U.S. copyright and Google could stand to lose more than $1 billion in damages, as the filing demands $750 per book in damages. Furthermore, the court documents suggest Google went into creating the digital library to make money rather than contribute to the public good, Publishers Weekly reported. A court appearance for both sides is set for Oct. 9 to determine whether a trial is needed to make a ruling.

Trees: Retailers, consumers still turn to print for catalogs

When Coldwater Creek tried to save money by reducing its print catalogs three years ago, sales dampened. The women’s clothing retailer returned to its print habit and sales recovered—just one of the indications that catalogs are still thriving in paper form, The Columbus Dispatch reported Aug. 8. In 2011, more than 12.5 billion catalogs were mailed to American households, and 89.6 million Americans purchased an item from these catalogs, the Direct Marketing Association reported, adding that a catalog is 30 times more effective than e-mail at making a sale. Just J. Crew alone mails out 40 million catalogs a year, with online and catalog sales making up about 30% of its revenue, reported May 22. Apparel retailers Express and Victoria’s Secret both cited the importance of their catalogs as a sales driver, with Express Senior VP of Marketing Jim Wright adding that he sees “a strong future for the catalog.” Not all retailers are clinging to print catalogs, however. Abercrombie & Fitch stopped printing a regular catalog in 2003 and has since published one sporadically, but when it does, the clothing retail chain goes all out with high-fashion photography. And Nebraska-based outdoor recreation merchandise retailer Cabela's has cut paper catalogs in favor of mobile and digital advertising, Retail Info Systems News reported July 30.

Tech: Conde Nast hopes to get ‘Lucky’ with e-commerce site

Spurred by declining advertising revenue, women’s shopping magazine "Lucky" has turned to the Internet to boost its bottom line, reported The New York Times on Aug. 5. "Lucky" will launch on Aug. 17, where users can receive trusted recommendations from the Conde Nast magazine on clothing and accessories from dozens of online retailers and purchase the products without leaving the site. Having seen its second-quarter revenues in ad pages fall 15% year-over-year, the magazine is currently working on revenue-sharing relationships with its partners and expects to earn 3%-15% on every sale. While "Lucky" isn't the first magazine to turn to e-commerce to bolster its coffers, it hopes to succeed where others have failed by partnering with many retailers instead of a select few. Magazines with recent failures in the e-commerce arena include "GQ," "Esquire Magazine" and "Details," which all partnered with just a handful of retailers. Whether or not "Lucky" succeeds with its online site remains to be seen, but the magazine vows to treat its new venture differently from other magazines. “We are looking at our business with a much larger lens than the standard magazine business,” said Marcy Bloom, the magazine's publisher.

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