Comparing Technology’s Impact on the Publishing and Fashion Industry

By: Aninditha Kamaruddin – for PUB 401, SFU Fall 2015

It is apparent that technology has altered the way we live our lives. These incremental changes, when compounded, have shown to quite significantly affect and disrupt the usual ways of going about our day-to-day affairs. Consequently, various institutions, industries, businesses, and governing bodies have had to adapt to the changes brought upon by technological advancement. Those in the publishing industry have especially been privy to these changes, as technology has profoundly impacted this industry in its entirety. This is not unlike other industries, like the fashion industry, which has also had to adapt to thrive and meet the demands of a technological society. Technology’s impact is entrenched throughout the publishing process, playing a role in how books are written, published, distributed, discovered and read. Similarly, technology has also altered how designers create, manufacture, distribute and clothing. This paper will delve into the similarities and differences between the impacts of technology on both industries. It is first and foremost important to recognize the aberrance in the way we think about the publishing and apparel manufacturing processes due to the rapid technological advancements. Therefore, in the examination of technology’s role in transforming both the publishing and the fashion industries, each step of the process cannot be analyzed chronologically.

For the purposes of this assignment, this paper will look into the processes subsequent to the creation of the products, or in other words, after the authors write their books and after the fashion designers produce their garments, to make sense of the shift in dynamics caused by technology. This paper will focus primarily on how books and apparel are distributed and discovered, and lastly, how these two major processes affect the ways creators create. Throughout this analysis, it will become apparent that technology has positively impacted and strengthened the fashion industry, whereas the digital platforms brought upon by the proliferation of new technologies have caused great upheaval to publishers and booksellers of the publishing industry. However, more importantly, in the case of both industries, embracing the technological era have provided many independent creators opportunities to showcase their work and product.

The most palpable and literal affect of technological innovation is the proliferation of screens, encouraging the move from offline-based activities online. For example, it used to be the norm that whenever we wanted to shop for goods like books or boots, we would go to a shopping centre. Now, with the ubiquity of computers, tablets and smartphones, the purchase of goods online from websites like Amazon has become a norm. This shift in shopping habits has had major implications on physical book retailers, forcing book megastore business pioneers like Borders to liquidate in 2011, and Barnes & Noble “ to restructure under bankruptcy protection in the February [of the same year], when it began closing a third of its then 659 stores (Sanburn, 2011). This has caused many to anticipate the demise of brick and mortar bookstores, specifically major book retailers like Barnes and Noble.

However, the effects of online shopping haven’t been as dire for the fashion industry. In fact, the ease of online shopping can be attributed to making the global fashion industry as prosperous as it is today, a $1.2 trillion industry composed of major international retailers to wholesalers to large design houses to one-person design shops (Maloney, 2015). It is important to note that Gap’s plan to close 175 stores in North America (“Gap to close 175 stores in North America,” 2015) and American Apparel’s file for bankruptcy, has more to do with their failure to rebrand and compete in the crowded fashion marketplace, than with the rise in customers preferring to shop online, such as in the case of the book industry.

To contrast, the $103 billion global publishing industry evidently isn’t as big as the fashion industry (“Global Book Publishing: Market Research Report,” 2015). In its own right, the publishing industry has experienced “a slight revenue increase of 4.6% from 2013… [due to the] depth and range of titles and formats produced by publishers” (Bluestone, 2015). E-books sales also “experienced 3.8% revenue growth to an estimated $3.37 billion” (Bluestone, 2015). This is an interesting fact to note, since the popularity of e-books and e-readers has been an attributing factor to the supposed demise of bookstores, especially when e-book sales soared “up 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, alarming booksellers that watched consumers use their stores to find titles they would later buy online” (Alter, 2015). I say “supposed” because recent reports have shown that there has been a resurgence of independent bookstores (Alter, 2015) after several years of dwindling sales and having to compete with companies like Amazon and Apple who, not only could offer more competitive prices for both physical and electronic books, but have customers read them on their respective e-readers for an exclusive price. The rise in independent bookstore sales have a lot to do with the recent increase of e-book prices (Alter, 2015), but nonetheless, publishers have had to adapt and embrace the public’s desire for e-books. Booksellers such as Barnes and Noble did just that by contracting their shelf space and instead devoted the space for other merchandise, such as the NOOK e-reader (“More thoughts about the future of bookstores, triggered by Barnes & Noble’s own predictions for itself – The Shatzkin Files,” 2013).

Embracing technology is key to survive, and fashion retailers easily understood that, though not having e-commerce powerhouses such as Amazon, eBay and others of the like disrupting the industry, is definitely an advantage. Despite the fact that clothing, by its very nature, is “considered to be a high involvement product category, related to personal ego… that needs to be seen, felt, touched and tried on,” (Blazquez, 2014), the dominance of brick and mortar stores have waned, with data showing that the average length of time consumers spend shopping in stores has decreased (Blazquez, 2014). Books arguably don’t have the same need for physical inspection before purchase, or the urgency of instant gratification, which is why brick-and-mortar apparel stores are still an integral part of the fashion industry.

Understanding that the online environment is a lot more competitive, etailers are opening physical locations. Case in point, online etailers like Bonobos are reversing the dynamics by pioneering the online-to-offline, no-inventory model through the expansion of their brick-and-mortar operations by opening a flagship store on Fifth Avenue (“E-tailer Bonobos to open first flagship store in New York City,” 2015). The literal shrinking of shelves is used to manifest the concept of a showroom, or in Bonobos’ terms, a “guideshop,” where only one of each clothing item is displayed. This model fulfils customer’s desire to feel the fit before buying online and utilizes the Internet as a backroom. This is similar to the concept of having a considerable portion of physical bookstores dedicated to e-reader stations.

However, it seems as if apparel retailers are a step ahead of book retailers when it comes to taking advantage of technological integration into the purchase and discovery of goods. The decision for readers to choose to buy books online or in-person is highly influenced by the price point, whereas in the fashion industry, an enjoyable shopping experience can be argued to be a more influential factor. For example, the clothing brand Free People have made technology part of the in-store experience, embracing the fact that customers will always have their smart phones on them. Free People created an application where customers can have the detailed product information and easily navigate the store with a built-in scanner on their phones. It seems as though many fashion retailers aren’t seeing online and offline shopping as mutually exclusive as it is in the case for the publishing industry. “Omnichannel” is becoming an exciting idea for fashion retailers, with websites like Farfetch developing technology that will allow the user to buy online from a far-away store and pick it up in person and a nearby retailer (Sherman, 2013).

This integration of technology into the shopping experience has opened many doors to novel ways to discover goods. Other forces brought upon by influencers, bloggers, digital platforms and social media play a huge part in the discovery stage. This is impactful in that smaller, lesser-known brands and authors have a chance to get noticed. Authors can self-publish their works with the availability of single channel-distribution services such as Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press and multiple-channel distributors like Smashwords. In the same vein, independent designers can take advantage of the e-commerce marketplaces provided by sites like Etsy and ASOS. The proliferation of these services and digital platforms not only fulfills niche interests, but also gives producers direct contact with their customers. This gives small fashion retailers timely feedback and profitability that isn’t possible through traditional reseller channels (Hagel & Brown, 2015). The opportunities provided by these digital channels have made small designers realize that there is an alternative to old dreams of getting their products to big department stores. These smaller designers don’t have to comply with tough terms from big retailers and can cut out the middleman altogether by using the abundance of online platforms available to them (Westervelt, 2014).

As a first-hand personal testament to the success of direct to consumer apparel sales, a lot of small designers in Jakarta have found the promise of social media and online platforms encouraging. Designers can sell clothing at affordable prices through sites like Berrybenka (which is comparable to ASOS marketplace) or on social media through endorsements, since they find that taking on all the risk of having to preorder inventory and fulfill orders is still more profitable than going through traditional resellers. This model is so successful that the arrival of multinational retailer mammoths like Forever 21, Uniqlo and H&M in Jakarta has not affected the sales of small designers (Mariani, 2013). In this competitive marketplace, like self-publishers, independent designers have to be smart about marketing their products. For example, in the case of designers, finding the right hashtags to use on social media sites like Instagram is already a viable strategy. Fashion bloggers have driven sales by adding the hashtag “#shopmycloset.” Vintage retailer Fox and Fawn have even reported that 25 percent of their sales are made via Instagram (Sherman, 2013).

As for the publishing industry, self-publishers have found similar success with the advent of print-on-demand technology and e-readers. However unlike the fashion industry as explicated in the Jakarta case study, “the commercial concentration will continue to be in a small number of big English-language [publishing] houses for many years to come even if the number of self-publishers appears to grow” (Shatzkin, 2014). Although big publishers will still dominate the industry, independent authors still have more opportunities to put their work out there– it is just a matter of putting in the effort and hard work to attempt to match the services and expertise publishers usually offer.

From this exploration into the ways technology has impacted the publishing and fashion industry, it is apparent that both industries are not the same as it were a decade ago. With these changes the publishing industry has seen major bookstores close down and downsize, the increased use of e-readers, the popularity of the e-book format, and recently, the resurgence of independent bookstores and physical book sales (Alter, 2015). The industry has had to undergo a lot of negotiating with the likes of Amazon and Apple and restructuring the publishing process to ensure relevant stakeholders are compensated and customers are happy.

With this in mind, it is fair to say that technology has brought upon more dire and drastic changes to the publishing industry than the fashion industry. As for the fashion industry, the changes brought upon by technology have evidently provided exciting opportunities for big and small retailers alike to give customers novel ways to discover and shop for apparel. Brick-and-mortar stores got smarter, apps can be downloaded to help you shop for your needs and social media sites like Instagram can easily drive sales without trying (Sherman, 2013). It is important to note that if 3D printing becomes a viable production method for clothing, the ramifications may be akin to the closures of bookstores due to the popularity of Amazon, e-books and e-readers. However, for now, 3D printing is still expensive and in the hands of very few people.

It seems that both the publishing and fashion industry will continue to flourish, at least in the near future. This discussion have shown that throughout the process of creating a book or an item of clothing, it is important to for designers, authors and publishers to put themselves in the shoes of the restless, increasingly tech-savvy consumers who crave novelty and convenience in order to thrive in a already crowded marketplace.

References

Alter, A. (2015, September 22). The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/23/business/media/the-plot-twist-e-book-sales-slip-and-print-is-far-from-dead.html?_r=1

Bluestone, M. (2015, June 10). U.S. Publishing Industry’s Annual Survey Reveals $28 Billion in Revenue in 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from http://publishers.org/news/us-publishing-industry’s-annual-survey-reveals-28-billion-revenue-2014

Blázquez, M. (2014). Fashion Shopping in Multichannel Retail: The Role of Technology in Enhancing the Customer Experience. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 97-116.

E-tailer Bonobos to open first flagship store in New York City. (2015, March 5). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://www.icsc.org/press/e-tailer-bonobos-to-open-first-flagship-store-in-new-york-city

Gap to close 175 stores in North America. (2015, June 15). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/gap-to-close-175-stores-in-north-america-1.3114615

Global Book Publishing: Market Research Report. (2015, May 1). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/global/global-book-publishing.html

Hagel, J., & Brown, J. (2015, September 2). Small designers don’t need big retailers to find a market. Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://fortune.com/2015/09/02/crowdfunding-clothing-retail/

Maloney, C. (2015, February 6). The Economic Impact of the Fashion Industry. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from https://maloney.house.gov/sites/maloney.house.gov/files/documents/The Economic Impact of the Fashion Industry — JEC report FINAL.pdf

Mariani, E. (2013, November 22). In Indonesia, local designers court a booming, stylish niche. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/11/22/in-indonesia-local-designers-court-a-booming-stylish-niche.html

More thoughts about the future of bookstores, triggered by Barnes & Noble’s own predictions for itself – The Shatzkin Files. (2013, January 31). Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://www.idealog.com/blog/more-thoughts-about-the-future-of-bookstores/

Sanburn, J. (2011, July 19). 5 Reasons Borders Went Out of Business (and What Will Take Its Place) | TIME.com. Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://business.time.com/2011/07/19/5-reasons-borders-went-out-of-business-and-what-will-take-its-place/

Shatzkin, M. (2014, April 17). When an author should self-publish and how that might change – The Shatzkin Files. Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://www.idealog.com/blog/author-self-publish-might-change/

Sherman, L. (2013, December 27). 8 Ways Tech Changed Fashion This Year. Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://fashionista.com/2013/12/tech-fashion-2013

Westervelt, A. (2014, August 25). For Fashion Designers, Selling Direct Is the New Black. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/for-fashion-designers-selling-direct-is-the-new-black-1408912044

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