Publishing, Between Revolution and Revolt

30 January 2014 iStock_000001433232Small photog GregAIT texted story image By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson
Publishing, Between Revolution and Revolt: Writing on the Ether

[su_dropcap size=”4″]F[/su_dropcap]ollow that burning fuse. It runs between these two curiously different words. We may need to think about which of them is closer to us. Revolution. Pretty comfortable. Thanks to Madison Avenue, we nowadays say “revolution” for every change, from geopolitical alliances to bathroom tissue. Revolt. Not so comfortable. More acute. Something or someone feels out of control. It’s an uprising, not a downfalling. Dangerous.

It seems to me that the phony war is over. Publishers are now looking at a market that will no longer drive itself, but needs to be driven, whether that is through product development, author acquisition, price promotion, consumer marketing, or international expansion. The game is on: and these changes are speeding up, even as the growth curve flattens.

Philip Jones
Philip Jones

I’ve started at the end of Philip Jones’ meditation The World Is Not Flat at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook site. Jones opens by acknowledging that “thinking of this as a flat market seems spectacularly unhelpful.” And having surveyed various assessments of market trends, he cautions, rightly, “We should be careful about the conclusions we draw from all this data gathering.” Jones references one of Mike Shatzkin’s recent posts,  The Future of Bookstores Is the Key to Understanding the Future of Publishing, and he deftly steps aside just as the sparks of our lit fuse go by, emphasis mine:

Mike sees bookstores as the canary in this particular mine. Others look to the steady drip-drip of successful self-published writers as the true indicators of how difficult the future might become for publishers: that some indie authors believe they are leading a revolution should worry everyone in the trade.

Matthias Matting
Matthias Matting

And one day later, we have word from another journalist, our good colleague in Munich, Matthias Matting—emoticon his:

Der 29. Januar 2014 müsste eigentlich in die Geschichte eingehen – heute kommen die zehn meistverkauften eBooks bei Amazon erstmals alle von unabhängigen Autoren. Das erste Verlagsbuch hat es gerade einmal auf Rang 11 geschafft. Glückwunsch allen Beteiligten :-)

In his short squib in The Self Publisher’s Bible, headlined Ein Tag für die Geschichtsbücher: Die Amazon-Kindle-Top-10 komplett von Self Publishern belegtMatting is telling us that the 29th of January marked the first time that every one of Germany’s Top 10 Kindle sellers on Amazon has been a self-published book. He offers congratulations to everyone involved. And a smiley face. Match struck. Fire to fuse. Back to Table of Contents

Smart Rebecca


Until recently we had good reason to push all our ‘product’ down the same shaped pipeline, because that was all we had as a route to our readers…This pipeline is a cracked, crumbling edifice that reinforces our siloed existence and stifles innovation, and yet we are locked in by the need to maintain legacy revenue.

Rebecca Smart
Rebecca Smart

Just posted by The Bookseller in London, you’ll find those powerful words in Harder, better, faster, stronger, a compassionately intense essay from Rebecca Smart, the eloquent CEO of the UK-based Osprey Group, an independent publishing company. As I said in my #PorterMeets interview with her (also in Friday’s edition), when Smart speaks hard truths like this, she always includes her own company’s issues. No dodges, nothing holier-than-thou about her. from Osprey Group
Rebecca Smart’s team is in beta with an enthusiasts’ hub for nutrition and diet.

This is one reason she is listened to when she talks from experience of the “15 to 18 months’ worth of books at any given point” in that long, old pipeline. She writes:

Let’s allow books to find their readers in a time frame that is most appropriate for the author, the book and the readers, not our sales process and teams. We need increased flexibility in deals between publishers and authors. Marcello Vena has talked about what RCS Libri [based in Milano] are calling ‘co-publishing’, hinting at the idea of different service levels for authors, with different types and levels of remuneration.

There is much more to Smart’s essay. In her interview with me she explains, “It’s about how we need to treat each project differently, on its own merits.” Hear that fuse’s flame? Is it close?

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