Publisher 2.0 and the future of the book publishing industry

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BEA12 was a fascinating display of the book world, as publishers, distributors, book sellers, and fans all mingled in a giant cavernous hall at the Javits Convention Center next to Blogworld. (Blogworld attendees got into the BEA expo floor for free) There was a grim attempt to highlight digital book reading technologies without showcasing the fact that most digital book technologies circumvent the publisher entirely, which was quite fun to look at. The contortions required to avoid using the words “Amazon Kindle” were worthy of a yoga expert.

The elephant in the room was the fact that self-publishing (which is now apparently called independent publishing) is connecting authors directly to their audiences. Other than the promise of getting paper books on shelves in book stores, there wasn’t a huge amount of discussion or display on the expo floor about what publishers had to offer.

Jim Kukral and Scott Stratten, on their panel, did a great job of summarizing the differences between publisher-signed book publishing and independent book publishing. The short of it is simply this:

If you want maximum distribution and exposure, go with a publisher. This is the “book as business card” route.

If you want maximum revenue and ownership of your works, go independent. This is the “book as revenue stream” route.

Neither is wrong as long as you’ve aligned it to your goals.

This poses an interesting question: what does Publisher 2.0 look like? The publishing world is struggling to remain relevant. Here are a few things that occurred to me as I walked around the Javits hall.

1. Publisher 2.0 is a marketing house first and foremost. The promise to authors is easy: unless you’re really good at marketing, we’ll help you market in exchange for a cut of the revenues. This would mean the publisher has a robust audience that attracts authors who simply don’t want to market themselves. The more of the marketing services an author uses, the more the publisher gets of the revenue split.

2. Publisher 2.0 is a skills house. Want your manuscript in iBooks, Kindle, and Nook, but don’t know how to do it? Publisher 2.0 has people who do the work for you, either at a set fee or a percentage of revenues if you sign with them. Want an audio book? Publisher 2.0 hooks you up and finds you a reader if you don’t feel comfortable on a mic. Want an iPhone app? Publisher 2.0 finds you a developer.

3. Publisher 2.0 is a quality check. The downside of independent publishing is the same as its upside: anyone can publish. That means books filled with garbage, with incorrect data, with grammar that would make your third grade teacher put away her 12 inch ruler and slap you upside the head with a granite yardstick. Publisher 2.0 is a quality check that has editors, correctors, and proofreaders helping do what your friends won’t: if your book sucks, you will know, and then they will help you make it better.

4. Publisher 2.0 is a service, rather than representation unless you want it. Rather than sign your rights over to them, you simply hire them like any marketing firm. It also means that they can work for a fee for service rather than be saddled with your works and vice versa. If you have the cash in hand, you can pay for the service outright, or you can take out a loan and be represented by them (which is effectively what a book advance is anyway).

That’s where, in my admittedly amateur view of the publishing industry, where publishers must go if they want to survive and remain relevant. What do you think?

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6 responses to “Publisher 2.0 and the future of the book publishing industry”

  1. My favorite part so far: “a granite yardstick.” Awesome imagery.

  2. Fantastic article but missing one nuance. I don’t think publishers are becoming a marketing company first and foremost, i think they are becoming a talent agency. Many publishers actually offer very little in the way of marketing support. In fact, they expect you to do a lot of the heavy lifting yourself. But they are aggressively assembling as much talent as possible. One exec told me, “As long as we have the authors and the content, I don’t care who sells it.” 

  3. Jared Heath Avatar
    Jared Heath

    I can’t find any entity called “Publisher 2.0.” Is it a specific organization? Can you provide a link?

    1. Hi Jared,

      There’s no such company… yet.

  4. That then begs the question: what exactly do you need a publisher for, if you have to build the audience anyway?

  5. Christine Avatar

    I have to agree with Mark W Schaefer…one of the most influential factors in publishing is the demand that writers become public personalities.  I had an agent tell me that publishers aren’t as concerned about content as they are about the audience that a writer brings to them.  Seems that the model is flipping.  Where publishers used to bring writers to the audience, now they expect writers to bring an audience to them.

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