Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Location: Books & Such Main Office, Santa Rosa, Calif.
We all recognize that publishing as we’ve known it is undergoing a sea change. It’s worth our effort to be aware of how publishers are working to stay afloat in the midst of high waves because that helps writers to know how they need to adapt to a brave new world.
I’m observing that the traditional, large publishing houses have a major advantage regardless what changes occur: money. Seen any best-sellers lately from small publishing venues? That’s not happening much. Which means traditional publishers have the wherewithal to pay large advances to buy the books that are likely to go really big. And those publishers have the muscle to market a book like crazy.
What are larger publishing houses lacking? Flexibility. When you’re a very large boat, it takes a lot of work to change direction–or even to see where you need to shift to. A smaller publisher can be lithe, flexing in various ways as the wind shifts. Take the death of brick-and-mortar bookstores (I can’t envision how they’ll manage to survive the flood of changes). Large publishers are dependent on those venues to sell most of the publishers’ titles.
But a small publishing house can be very successful by exploring creative outlets–putting a book on motherhood into BabiesRUs or getting a book selected by a large catalog distributor. The smaller publisher has: 1) paid a smaller advance; 2) has a smaller staff to sustain; 3) doesn’t have to sell as many copies to be successful; 4) doesn’t have an immense warehouse full of books; 5) can afford to take risks; 5) will be profitable with placement in a few strong venues. (And, by the way, most authors will see more sales from the imaginative small publisher than from the large publisher that knows how to leverage significant authors but is at more of a loss with lesser known authors.
Ultimately, in the past, a publisher needed to:
In the future, publishers will need to:
use content in multitudes of ways and formats;
be a gatherer of communities of readers;
effectively promote not just titles but also authors.
I keep thinking about publishing lines that used to be crisp and clear–like who is the author, who is the publisher, who is the promoter. Those lines have blurred. The writer is now both author and promoter; the publisher must figure out how to bring reading communities together and to be successful apart from bookstores, which means finding new sales venues. The author is unlikely to be able to create all the ancillary content that will be an expected part of any book; so the publisher will need to step in with additional content providers and the technical support to deliver that content.
We can all be like Chicken Little and rush about proclaiming the sky is falling, or we can be more like Noah and build a sturdy boat now–not when it starts to rain, but now.
At our agency, we’re hard at work to remain relevant not just next year but in the next decade. We’re trying to envision what we will need to do to help our clients transition. In upcoming months we’ll be announcing those plans, but they go way beyond traditional agenting.
What are you doing to prepare for publishing’s changes? Even if it’s small adjustments, tell us how you’re building a boat.
If you haven’t started to build, what materials do you need to gather to begin?