A contradiction I really like

Liked this article from the NY Times (unfortunately you may need a subscription to view) which points out that according to a recent census less than half the US population actually reads ‘literature’ (not sure how they actually define that) but local book fairs have experienced great growth in recent years.

These are fairs where readers go to meet book sellers and authors and they buy books. This, of course, is all great stuff. I, for one, and my wife for two can only think of a couple of things that may be a better way of spending an afternoon than wandering round looking at books. For the record the best actual real world store for this (well of the ones we’ve been to) is the Strand Bookstore on Broadway.

But what is interesting about this? Well, obviously that thousands and thousands of people with all the demands on their time and wallet from competing ‘spare time fillers’ still would prefer to go and enjoy the feel, look and community that only comes (I think anyway) from books. But, of equal interest to me at least is that in none of the articles that I have read on the web in addition to that linked above does anyone mention publishers.

Its all about the authors connecting directly with the readers with independent booksellers sometimes enabling that relationship.

So, in 2006 what is it that publishers bring uniquely to the table. They don’t create the content. They are not strictly required to edit that content. Page layout/design etc. can be done by anyone. The internet opens up all kinds of possibilities for telling people about a book. And the huge advances in on demand printing have meant that they are not even required to produce the book. And lets be blunt the buying and selling of territorial rights is a bit of an anomaly in 2006 in any event and for the sale of other media rights (TV, film etc.) are most publishers really qualified anyway?

Most publishers I speak to at this point then go on to talk about marketing and editorial functions. And for a handful of publishers this may well be true but for the vast majority (the again infamous long tail) this to be frank consists of producing an Advanced Information sheet (Tip Sheet etc) which they then photocopy and getting a rep to shove it into the hands of a bookseller. Can they really justify their existence based on that? Personally, I don’t think so. As an author do you really want your royalties diluted by the cost of the machine required to carry out these basic tasks?
The biggest single factor for publishers to sell more books is to make sure that as much complete and accurate information reaches the publishing supply chain is as timely a manner as possible. The best way of doing this (at the moment at least) is to ensure that all the principal retailers/trading partners etc have a complete Onix record containing all the blurbs, identifiers and so on. Barnes & Noble has all kinds of statistics about the massive percentage increases in sales that may be achieved simply by including a cover in the bibliographic information supplied. So, why do so many publishers still not do it????? And if they continue down that line and authors can now create direct relationships with Amazon et al what really is the point of them?

Amazon are clearly already thinking along these lines. Last year they bought the POD company Booksurge and in the last year have worked at building POD capability right at their principal fulfillment centre in the US. Increasingly at the point that a customer clicks ‘purchase’ that book won’t technically exist. It will only be at that point it is actually produced. So, we can increasingly add to ‘What is it you actually do?’ list the current distributor model.

And, we can also call into question as the supply chain gets compacted and streamlined with authors building direct relationships with retailers the role of the bibliographic agencies such as Nielsen, Bowker etc etc.

My advice to publishers: Wake up! Think long and hard about where you actually add value. There will be a shake out in the coming years and to be blunt I think it is going to go the opposite way of big multinationals I think ironically that it it will be the smaller/nimbler publishers who really know their markets and how to exploit (cost effectively) technology to create, manage and market content. Oh, and that is a good thing by the way.


Filed under: Publishing

One Response

  1. Rare Autumn says:

    This post is excellent: very well written, properly informed and to the point. Thanks for posting!

  2. […] Ok a really clumsy analogy thing. But, like this post on the Snowbooks blog that really picks up on the theme I’ve been running with lately – ‘what is it a publisher actually does?‘ […]

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