From Publishing Perspectives:
George Packer’s recent article in The New Yorkerabout the ever-increasing presence of Amazon is simply the latest in a long line of wake-up calls — or calls-to-arms — to the traditional book publishing industry. Amazon’s ability to sell directly to consumers, as well as use consumer insights to predict future purchases, continues to challenge the ways in which publishers think of their business models. In fact, publishers will likely have to change from a business-to-business model to a business-to-consumer model in order to evolve as brands and compete effectively in the marketplace.
Publishers face many challenges when it comes to establishing themselves as viable brands with customers. Traditionally, they have little to no brand recognition with book buyers because it’s been the author’s “brand,” not the publisher’s, that’s typically been marketed to consumers. Furthermore, bookstores have acted as the main point of contact between publishers and readers, and regardless of whether they are bricks-and-mortar or online, very rarely have they focused on the personality of a publisher instead of the books themselves. Until recently, it’s been largely unnecessary, given the traditional sales model. Most readers, then, have only a passing knowledge of what makes a literary imprint like Random House’s Knopf, for example, different from another literary imprint like Simon & Schuster’s Scribner, or even from a more commercial imprint like St. Martin’s Press.
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Establishing relationships directly with book buyers is one significant opportunity that lies within these current challenges. The book clubs of yore did this to some extent, but the advent of social media — and of the Internet, in general — has opened up robust channels of communication between publisher and book buyer, as it has between author and fan. Some publishers have used social media exceptionally to engage with consumers. Penguin’s Twitter Book Club is a prime example. Penguin invites its Twitter followers to join a discussion of a Penguin title each month via the hashtag #readpenguin. Readers then talk with one another, with Penguin, and often with the author him- or herself. Because Penguin is facilitating the conversation and participating in it, consumers understand that Penguin is enhancing their reading experience by embracing social media, as an informed brand would.
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What lies at the heart of this approach is not so much something radically new as it is something long-established — the simple joy of talking about a book, or the thrill of seeing one’s work in print, especially in hardcover or paperback. To that end, in decrying print books as relics, many tech gurus miss an essential point: a print book and its attendant prestige still mean something to consumers, and likely will for a while.
Yes, the long-term future of print books — like print magazines and newspapers — doesn’t look so rosy. But electronic books, as has been widely reported, have plateaued at around 30% of sales. This may be a temporary flattening out, but it points to the fact that print books can — and currently do — live alongside ebooks (as opposed to being devoured by them).
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This is a conversation that publishers need to own. They should talk directly to consumers about the whole host of experiences they offer instead of relying solely on booksellers to do so.
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How difficult might this be? Not very, actually. Publishers can begin by leveraging their greatest asset — their authors — to shape their brand identities in consumers’ eyes. This gives customers an idea of an imprint’s character while highlighting publishers’ rich editorial heritage and professional expertise in acquiring, editing, and promoting books — something that can hardly be learned overnight. After all, discerning the good from the vast sea of bad is both a skill and a profession, not an algorithm.
Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives
Of course, authors don’t have anything better to do than help publishers shape brand identities in consumers’ eyes. For no additional compensation.
The biggest problem PG sees with this vital transformation of publishers is that big publishers are remarkably insular. Everyone in New York likes to think of themselves as a cosmopolitan citizen of the world, but most aren’t. They’re citizens of New York, which is a vastly different place than the rest of America.
Undertaking the process of really engaging with people in Bismark or Tucson or Mobile is not a task for which a committed Manhattanite is well suited, particularly if said Manhattanite is convinced he/she is vastly smarter and cooler and more connected than anyone West of the Hudson is. If anybody needs transforming, it’s those people in Kansas.
And the Internet pretty much destroys geographical meaning. Nobody knows if you’re tweeting from a Starbucks on West 79th or a Denny’s in Scottsbluff. Or cares. Not that building your career on lunch with the Barnes & Noble buyer really prepares you to do this #twitterthing in the first place.
PG thinks if Big Publishing was going to pull off any sort of transformation in time to save itself, it would have begun before now. He further observes not the slightest indication that publishers have either the ability or the intention to think like Amazon. They would rather die first. And will.
On the other hand, a remarkable and increasing number of authors are transforming themselves into indies and doing quite a nice job of engaging with consumers, building their brands and controlling the conversation about books in general and their books in particular.
In fact, these authors are discovering the joy of being their own greatest asset instead of someone else’s.