Timo Boeseman's blog post, What Nobody Sees and What Ensures that Publishers Remain: Added Value, featured on FutureBook, is a good reminder that publishing isn't a one-size-fits-all business.
What many of the latest anti-publisher rants often fail to take notice of is that not every writer wants, nor has the time (or skills), to learn how to be an expert marketeer, sales executive, production editor, jacket designer, proofreader, digital deliverer, distribution manager, subscription agent, and wholesaler. And for those authors who still want print copies of their books (and many do), some won't want to have to turn their garage into a warehouse. Self-publishing (in whatever guise) isn't for everyone.
In praise of the empowered author...
I'm aware of the fact that many current publishing models lead to a position whereby great storytelling or rich, interesting academic content can't always find a home with a publisher because of increasingly tight margins (think of the PhD thesis that has something new and exciting to offer but is unlikely to appeal to textbook market, or the beautifully crafted piece of genre storytelling by an unknown author). And it's wonderful that writers are finding ways to bypass the hurdle of getting a book deal with a traditional publisher and that such a vibrant and supportive community is developing in the self-publishing world.
But any writer looking to go their own way needs to heed the fact that publishing is not for the faint-hearted. It takes time to learn how to put on your marketing, editing, distribution and digital delivery hats, and even longer to become skilled in wearing them well. For some, acquiring all these skills may mean time away from the even harder craft of writing and storytelling. A few have managed to do it very well, but they are likely to remain in the minority.
Readers and the brand...
It's also an interesting time for us book buyers. When I'm downloading books for my Kindle I still look to see whether a reputable publishing house is behind the book. Such brand recognition doesn't guarantee quality but it can be an indicator. That's not to say that I won't buy a book from an author who's gone it alone. I have and with mixed results; some of the books were great, but some were woeful. I usually check the author's website. If care and attention has been given to that, then I figure we're in with a good chance that the book might be a good buy. And if I like it, I take the time to comment as such on said website or on Amazon.
Developing, not dying...
The times are indeed changing and it's interesting to watch new business models developing in the market. But we shouldn't forget that many publishing houses have spent the past decade carefully tweaking their programmes in order to stay up to date with new developments. In the academic sector, some have even been the drivers behind digital delivery – first, with journals, then books – and these adaptations didn't cause them to become redundant. Digital didn't kill academic publishers; it just shifted their landscape.
I think publishers still have an enormous role to play in this diverse and some might say increasingly democratic market. Will their models remain the same? Doubtful. But this is not the first time in publishing history that the business has evolved. And it won't be the last.
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