I’ve been thinking about (and witnessing just like you) the future of books and publishing for a while now. Ever since I bought my Kindle a year ago, not only have I read more in general but I have also become very interested in the publishing space. As a result, I’ve been following initiatives like the Domino Project and naturally the different moves by Amazon and its competitors.
The roles of the writer, publisher and distributors are forever changing and intertwining in different ways where at least one thing is certain: If you are in this game you’d better adapt and reinvent.
Last week I listened to Seth Godin being interviewed by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits. Here are some thoughts on the writing landscape. I’d love to know your opinion.
On the times we are living
There seems to be a consensus that we are living exciting times in which the author can connect with the reader at whatever level she chooses to. The physical barriers previously imposed by gatekeepers and by the lack of the very technology to communicate don’t exist anymore. Things like blogging, webinars, podcasts, email marketing, Skype, are accessible to any writer that wants to reach out to her community of readers and engage at some level.
I think the keys to understanding what the new space means for authors and publishers reside exactly in knowing if that desire to communicate beyond the book is paramount to all writers or mainly a necessity imposed by the “social wave”.
Let us look briefly at the imminent shifts before going back to what the author desires or doesn’t. I would like to leave out of this post the monetary advantages or disadvantages of the new landscape. However, at a general level in order to look at the scenario we can say that 3 facts are changing the economics of the publisher-writer-audience relationship:
- The role of the publisher as a risk taker who believes in a writer to provide an advance & then help market the book is becoming obsolete since writers can now “pick themselves” as Godin says.
- The fact that anyone can become a writer and self publish from one day to another means that there will be over-abundance of content and noise.
- Since the old model was based on the scarcity in shelf-space, spotting an opportunity to have something written and then marketing the book to people made sense, together with the advance apparatus and so on. This has become obsolete due to ebooks solving the scarcity problem (advantage?) and “you may also like” technology in sites like Amazon.
The new role of the publisher
Godin is currently an innovative breed of publisher (particularly focusing on point 3) through his Domino Project, where he is trying to change all-things-publishing as much as possible. The fundamental shift he is successfully achieving is that of proving that seeking for buyers is not the way to go but keeping an active community of readers that await your next release is the best solution in a sea of noise. I’m a Domino Project subscriber and have bought some of its bestsellers because I’m part of those like-minded readers who envisage a good read in most of what Godin (or his “cousins”) bring out. The reasoning in my simple mind seems to be “any friend of Seth can be my friend”, and that’s how the sale happens. But Domino doesn’t want to be a “social-community-builder” for selected writers. I think I’ve even heard Godin say in an older interview that he only picks authors that “get-it” and already have their community, which I guess makes sense. Domino is a publisher based on permission-marketing, relevance and promise-keeping.
The author and the future
Let’s go back to what the author wants. It is easy to think that every writer wants to connect with readers and be more social. After all, those are the times we are living, right? I suspect otherwise and I believe Seth does too (if you listen to the interview he shares how a lot of people apply to be “picked” by him even if he strictly says that he doesn’t want applications). Many people don’t want to take the initiative and would much rather do what they do best which is writing and then let the publisher do the rest. Yet, it is inevitable that in a noisy world, authors who want to sell will have to work at keeping their community of readers (buyers) ready for their next release somehow. Seth says in the inetrview that those who are not willing to engage should find someone to do it for them. Someone like Domino? Possibly, but remember that they don’t pick authors that don’t “get it”. I guess what this means is that it is only a matter of time before many publishers reinvent themselves mirroring practices from Domino Project but accepting applications. Since the abundance of content and noise is inevitable as well as the quality decrease in books, these publishers will more likely be less picky than the precursor. It really hit me in the interview when Godin clarifies that Domino is in fact a Project (that will end). I think I understood that he will inteligently move into the next innovation before the unwanted copycats come in.
What does the future look like then?
I believe there will be 2 big author groups in the years to come:
- A minority of go-do-it authors who will enjoy and assume the post-writing-engagement capacities (think Chris Brogan, Brian Solis in the Social Media world for instance). To this, we need to add the upcoming young authors who are already “wired” for social (think about a boy who is now a 16 year old but will publish his first book in let’s say 3 years time).
- A (temporary) majority of authors who would rather hand over all pre-post-writing efforts to a new “social-relevant” publisher that will promise the captive community of readers.
This is probably only the short term. Would you agree? What does the longer term look like? I’d love to hear your thoughts.