Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Eslite Bookstore in Taichung Chung-yo Departme...Image via Wikipedia
I have made the point before that the publishing industry is following a business model dependent on its inherent inefficiency. The original post is linked here, but basically my contention is that the whole industry is built on the cost of distributing a product, squid and dead trees squeezed through rollers, that is about to be overtaken by a much more efficient means of distribution - the Internet.

Of course this is a very simplistic view - there are many other aspects to the industry such as editing and marketing, but I believe these would simply move to an online model where publishers would 'worldsource' such activities. In this model, publishing houses would be significantly smaller organisations surviving on significantly smaller margins and carrying much larger lists. They would be online-centric.

Print runs would be cut back to a minimum required for retail presence in a significantly smaller number of retail outlets - online buys would be serviced by POD suppliers. The music industry gives us a clear way ahead as far as the retail/online adoption model goes. Paper books won't disappear, but they will become less important to consumers - as, for instance, CDs have today. Hardbacks will be like today's vinyl records - a quirky indulgence for connoisseurs of the medium.

The inevitable atomisation of the industry will create a wide number of individual authors going direct to reader as well as a number of 'wannabe' imprints. We'll see an increase in pay to publish scamsters as well, no doubt.

In that scenario, online marketing will be crucial to publishers - particularly community development, where a publisher would build a wide circle of relationships that are built on the respect, trust and recognition for quality that will be pretty much the core of what the imprint will offer authors - because the core of publishing today is distribution and that's, as we've just said, moved online.

Many publishers are currently pushing the responsibility of maintaining online relationships to authors. The standard industry advice to writers would appear to be 'get a blog, a Fanpage and on Twitter. Move it!' right now, which is a tad unfair as it's increasingly going to be the case that a widespread, solid presence on these very properties (as well as some others) that will be the only thing an imprint really has to offer an author.Some of the larger publishers, such as Hodder & Stoughton (tentatively) and Random House (much further down that line, with Authorsplace), are aggregating author 'social' content and even beginning to look a little like communities - is this the way forward?

Or am I just blowing hot air? Are the tectonic shifts that are devastating the music industry and music retail going to pass publishing by?

Have a read of this - I read it after I wrote the above post (it was a Zemanta suggestion. I'll tell you all about Zemanta another time. It's cool.). It's from author Max Barry and it's yet more food for thought on the winds of change.

Authors and readers alike will be talking about stuff like this at the rather wonderful Emirates Airline Literary Festival, at the Social Media Public Session, wot is being moderated by me (hence all the fuss about this stuff this week). The permalink to the information page on the session is linked here. And you can follow the Festival's rather sound Twitter feed at @EmiratesLitFest.
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