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Authors Ask Agents: What Are The Publishers Doing for Us?

24 June 2011

Thanks to a reader who forwarded me the link, we have some embarrassing quotes from British publishers.


If agent Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown is to be believed, then publishers have no understanding of what readers want and are listening more to the supermarkets than they are to their own customers. “The reason we have so many jackets looking the same is that publishers will say ‘oh, we can’t choose that one because Tesco won’t like it,’” he said in the graveyard shift at the end of the day at the inaugural Publishers Launch London digital publishing conference on Tuesday this week.

. . . .

“Every day I have conversations with authors who are asking me ‘what are publishers playing at and what can I do about it?,’” Geller said. “They’re saying to me, ‘If they’re going to stick a 25% of net receipts on it, I might as well publish it myself. If they’re asking me to invest £5,000 in a website or if publicists aren’t available after hours,’ –- authors are asking me what are the publishers doing.”

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Naturally, Makinson defended his corner, listing the numerous extra services that publishers provide, from creating apps to monitoring piracy and perfecting metadata –- “I don’t think publishers are becoming less relevant,” he said. But Stephen Page, Chief Executive of Faber, suggested that publishers perhaps don’t do as good a job as they could of communicating to authors the value publishers offer. “We forget the difficulty of the remote position that writers occupy.”

. . . .

He called entrenched UK attitudes “protectionist” and questioned the recent deal for Jimmy Connors’ memoirs, asking: “Why does that need to be published by Harper in the US and Transworld in the UK? Is one going to do something markedly different than the other? What you end up with is two unearned advances.”

But Curtis Brown’s Anna Davis gave a robust defense of the status quo, and said territoriality was “vital for the survival of the UK publishing industry – if it goes, the US will dominate.”

. . . .

His colleague, Charlie Redmayne, Executive Vice-President and Chief Digital Officer, who is something of a cross between the X-Factor/American Idol’s Simon Cowell and British actor Clive Owen –- noted that digital is no longer a separate department. “It now impacts on everything,” and he observed that publishing has changed from being a business that was “oriented towards trade marketing to one oriented towards consumer marketing.” He admitted to being unclear on the affect of social media. “Is a book selling well because it is being discussed on Facebook, or is it being discussed because it is selling well? Which is driving which?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Agents, Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation, Ebooks

2 Comments to “Authors Ask Agents: What Are The Publishers Doing for Us?”

  1. Agents declaring publishing is still relevant is like a military adviser saying the war needs to continue. No one likes to be out of a job.

    • Well put. I’m also reminded of the old saying about generals always fighting the last war.

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