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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Can Publishers Prevent Extinction?

Traditional Publishers
Playing In Their Fantasy
Stephen S. Power, Senior Editor at Wiley and HuffPost blog contributor, has some suggestions that might help publishers, especially trade publishers, from becoming extinct.

The suggestions are basically common sense but go against the grain of traditional publishers' ancient OS or legacy business practices.

These suggestions are also good for indie publishers (like you or I wanting to sell our own book/s).

Stephen S. Powers suggests:

Three Ways Publishers Can Avoid Extinction

In his blogpost The Incredible Resilience of Publishing Fantasy, author Michael Levin responds to a piece in the Atlantic by former Random House editor Peter Osnos.

Osnos makes the case that books will survive, while Levin makes the point Osnos avoids saying: trade publishers might not, having "lost the two things that made their business model work: the hammerlocks on distribution and marketing that the Internet has utterly destroyed."

Levin's correct, but I also agree with Osnos that trade publishers are resilient and adaptive. They haven't stuck "their heads in the sand," as Levin puts it, "and hope[d] that the whole Internet thing will go away." They want to adapt, they're flush with ideas for doing so, and they've tried to exploit the rapidly changing book market. Problem is, they're hindered by legacy business practices. Their experiments are like patches to failing software or new programs that don't work well with their ancient OS.

Instead, publishers need a new OS. Here are three core features that would make it work:

Publish the e-book first

E-books are quickly moving towards 50% of a title's sale and could go as high as 75%. So publishers need to bite the bullet and make the first edition the ebook. This would let them go from manuscript to ship in only twenty weeks, half the time it usually takes to produce a print book.

This change would force publishers to rethink the many practices built on the 40-week schedule: sell-in, which now occurs 6 months before pub; initial marketing, which relies on bound galleys; and catalogues, which wedge lists into seasons. In exchange, publishers would gain publicity immediacy and more flexible lists.

A print edition would follow 3-5 months later, but there may not need to be one. Just as paperbacks are cheaper, lighter weight versions of hardcovers, an ebook is even cheaper, weighs nothing, and contains the entertainment or information the reader wants. So what function does print serve?

Answer: Print books are fashion accessories; whether you display them on your coffee table or on your lap, you are what you read. Print books can be given and collected. They need no batteries, you can get them wet, and you don't have to turn them off during takeoff and landing. You can "have" a print book, whereas an ebook is just a license. Print books are, ultimately, luxury items. The decision to publish them should be made with these factors in mind, and their packaging should promote their tangibility.

E-book packages, that is, their thumbnail covers should become more iconic, even animated, so they can act as badges for the reader, something they can pin to social media site, to be sent as a hotlink as a recommendation, to be collected and displayed on an author or publisher's site as proof of fandom. They are the consumer's laminate to a book's community.

Create communities
In a recent post, Penelope Trunk wrote: "There is no publishing industry fan page that is good enough to sell books. No one goes to fan pages for publishers because publishers are not household brand names. The authors are. That's how publishing works." The first three sentences are, but the last assumes they must always be true.

Publishers can't work this way anymore. The only way they can survive in a world where self-publishing is easy and without stigma, especially for those with followings likes Penelope's, is if they create communities around themselves, make the strength and reach of their communities a reason for authors to sign with them, especially those authors without followings like Penelope's, and listen to these communities and respond with better acquisitions.

Read and learn more 

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