Why we need publishers

I was going to craft ‘the iPad post’ but thankfully told my urge to go stand in a timeout corner for two weeks. As it turns out, it’s not about what the iPad is/is not, but how Apple’s entry into the e-reader market is changing the industry. The buzz quickly focused on the Amazon/Macmillan dustup and the general notion that writers do not need evil corporations to publish our work. No longer will writers like John Kennedy Toole die in obscurity, with their genius posthumously (tragically!) recognized decades later.

Which is bullshit. I was going to write a screed on why we won’t be insta-publishing our masterpieces, but Cat Valente has already written a wonderful post on why traditional publishing is not dead.

My post on annoying self-promotion via twitter is still in the timeout corner; I can’t seem to strike the right balance without sounding whiny on one hand or preaching to the choir on the other. Besides, every other sentence contains the phrase ‘social media douchebag,’ which is not a good thing.

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2 responses to “Why we need publishers

  1. It’s a little funny to me that professional authors all over the Internet who spend a fair bit of time railing against the notion that just anyone can write a book and arguing that tearing down the barriers to publishing through more online ebook publishing would do anything but flood the world with dreck (both legitimate points) somehow none the less think that a whole lot of their own blog posts can explain what’s going to happen to the global business of publishing which is undergoing massive upheaval.

    I’m not saying no one without an MBA should be writing about the topic, but there’s a lot of not very good economic and business strategy writing by earnest folk who don’t seem to know much about demand curves, price elasticity, or the history of consolidation and antitrust in the content-producing businesses. How about a passing familiarity with Harvard B-school professor Clay Christensen’s seminal work on these kinds of issues, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

    Just on a very basic level, the economic benefits achieved through the massive consolidation of book publishing and the tremendous and costly infrastructure the publishers have created makes life very difficult for them if upstarts can do what they do without needing all that overhead. Yes, yes, publishers provide many essential and positive contributions to the book market, not the least of which is sorting the good from the dreck. But can new competitors now provide many of those same contributions without needing to own giant printing presses, distribution networks, promotional budgets and skyscrapers full of senior vice presidents? Can the value that publishers add at great cost suddenly be added at a much lower cost? The answer is starting to be “yes” not just because of ebooks but also the plummeting cost of print-on-demand, the growth of the Internet as a medium for promotion and viral marketing and the emergence of new generations of readers with different market preferences than those who came before.

  2. You raise great points. To play devil’s advocate with the Cat Valente link I posted — to insinuate that taking publishers out of the picture and allowing the unwashed masses to self-publish will lead to a deluge of dreck smacks of elitism.

    My view — e-publishing is a great equalizer. Frex, anyone can make a movie, upload it to YouTube and receive 200,000 hits. That doesn’t make them Martin Scorcese, and the auteur is unlikely to parlay that 15 minutes of fame into a meaningful career. As always, cream rises to the top.

    I don’t think authors should be threatened by anyone having the ability to self-publish, but I still see immense value in a writer ‘paying their dues’, being vetted by an agent/editor/publisher and running the professional gauntlet to sharpen one’s skills.

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