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Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World

28 May 2015

From Digital Book World:

Editors and imprints are steadily losing the ability to dictate how their content is curated and discovered, says Canelo co-founder Michael Bhaskar, speaking at the International Digital Publishing Forum’s Digital Book 2015 conference at BookExpo America in New York City this morning.

That power, as Bhasksar sees it, has devolved to readers.

Or, at least, that’s the impression that many within the publishing industry seem increasingly keen to convey. “That the customer holds all of the power is clearer than ever today,” Tom Chalmers of IPR License wrote yesterday, “thanks to the Internet and the various forms of social media. No longer does our or any industry control the main filters through which information about what to buy reaches customers.”

. . . .

Get used to swapping “or” with “and.” Far from being mutually exclusive, print and digital are now increasingly complementary formats, and more readers are comfortable switching back and forth between them. 60% of Goodreads users read in both formats, Chandler says, while 48% read on their mobile devices and about a third of those use mobile as “a backup device” to fill in on-the-go for a primary one that stays more at home. No discovery effort, in other words, can afford not to pay heed to those many, interconnected use cases.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World


29 Comments to “Discovery Challenges Mount in a Reader-Driven World”

  1. “That the customer holds all of the power is clearer than ever today,”

    Contrast that with Jane Friedman’s post and that statement appears mildly overblown.

    And while “micro-influencers” might help, you’d have to put in far more work to enlist their powers. You can’t hand-sell your way to the best-seller list.

    Perhaps you need a lot of passive marketing, supplemented with active marketing.

  2. “That power, as Bhasksar sees it, has devolved to readers.”

    Emphasis mine. That word tells the whole story for me. What we see as a proper path of growth and influence, they see as “devolving”.

    Those plebeian end users — readers — are ruining everything!

    • Yeah, that’s the word that grabbed my attention, too.

      • It’s a reasonable word:

        “transfer or delegate (power) to a lower level, especially from central government to local or regional administration.”

        “degenerate or be split into.”

        • I understand technically the word is used correctly. I also think, like Mir below, that many other words that lack the negative connotations could have been used in its place.

          We’re in the business of words. It behooves all of us to choose wisely.

    • It’s because it’s the loss of ‘control’ that they’re really moaning about. Full page ads and going on Oprah doesn’t cut it when comments on personal blogs are more often seen/read/(believed).

      And news now travels like wildfire — both good and bad. I think it was the movie ‘hunk’ that was a ‘must see’ in the ads and the east coast flooded in to see it — only to warn their friends that it was a dog (that should have been put out of its misery). As I recall the west coast didn’t show up because they’d had and heeded the warning. Books can grow or get buried just as quickly.

    • The word devolved has a negative connotation. Could have said shifted, dispersed, disseminated, transferred, spread out, changed hands, democratized, etc. But devolved implies becoming more primitive. Back to amoebas or something.

      The power transferred to readers…I like that. As a reader, I want the power. It’s evolution, not devolution. 😀

      • +1

      • It’s both evolution AND devolution.

        “The power has devolved to the readers” is one of the best things I, as a reader, have ever read. I’m surprised that sentence is getting so much hate. Perhaps it’s because devoution is a big thing here in the UK at the moment, but the first thing to leap to my mind certainly isn’t a regression.

        It’s a good word. In fact, it is the right word, and the primary meaning should be highlighted more often.

  3. Digital strategist Molly Barton, joining this morning’s discussion, seconded that notion, adding, “We need to be more ambitious about who our audience is, and not settle.”

    What does that mean?

  4. Terry, I think she’s bemoaning the fact that there are a bunch of readers out there who can’t tell the difference between roast beef and instant mashed potatoes. Poor thing.

  5. Over at Inks, Bits, and Pixels Nate noted they held a panel about reaching out to readers without any readers. And precious few authors in attendance:

    Groupthink, anyone?

    They live in such an interesting bubble, don’t they?

    Kinda like Marie Antoinette, really.

  6. “Discoverability by agents and editors is difficult in a gatekeeper driven world” said everyone experienced with Trad pub, pre-KDP.

  7. Smart Debut Author

    I find it hysterically funny that this article unabashedly defines “Discovery” as a publisher’s ability to unilaterally dictate to readers which books they should buy and read, whereas a “Discovery Challenge” is seen as a negative development in which readers themselves are able to find and buy the books they actually want. 🙂

    Traditional publishing is definitely cloud cuckoo-land.

    For years, the entire publishing ecosystem was predicated on having a lock over distribution and visibility. That’s why traditional publishers never progressed beyond a cargo-cult-level understanding of their market.

    And it’s also why they are having so much trouble understanding that readers don’t care about them and authors don’t need them anymore, now that their lock on distribution is gone.

  8. I am trying to read Wolf Hall. Halfway through, I’m infuriated by the indiscriminate use of ‘he’ and the monotonous tone of the scenes. Mantel has taken understatement to a new pitch, haha, and we were sold this book as a study in one man’s interiority. So, feeling like I’m that last on the planet to not love this Booker winner, I go onto Goodreads and find hordes of ‘he’ haters have risen from the swamp and complained that La Mantel has no clothes, so to speak. Many others loved the book, too, but clearly a book that was rammed down the market’s throat with acclaim and prizes, TV and stage adaptations, etc., is for many, just badly written and pretentious in style.

    The market is changing; publishers can say its devolving or evolving or expanding or disintegrating, but I’m glad I found I wasn’t alone.

    And I will repeat on this blog for those who missed it before, the way The Goldfinch was blanket-bombed onto the market was North Korean in breadth but well disguised by traditional ‘free market’ sales and distribution practices.

    Readers are only at the beginning of breaking their shackles.

    • Publishers REALLY wish we would read the things they enjoyed PRETENDING to have read while getting their MFAs.

      Meanwhile, dreaded genre drives their profits.

      And that’s the segment of the market they’re losing the quickest.

      I have a lot of fun conversations with Mike Shatzkin about how much trouble BPHs are in, and he keeps telling me, “But most of what you’re saying only applies to genre.”

      Let’s take away HUNGER GAMES, and 50 SHADES, and Patterson, and Potter, and Dan Brown, et al and see what’s left.

      The blatant disregard for readers’ wishes is the single most toxic force in big publishing, and that’s saying something. Because there’s an entire cocktail soaking the joint.

      • I have reached the point where I want the Big 5 to take all the 50 Shades, Hunger Games, Pattersons, and Browns. They deserve them!

        Just let me write what I want and settle for that select group of fans who understand.

        • Ah, but there’s the rub you see — because they wouldn’t know what a good thing looks like until long after it’s bitten them on the a$$ and eaten their lunch! 😉

          • Well, clearly all those authors know where their bread is buttered. Even self-pubbed super successes join the publishing world as soon as the publishers notice the “good” thing.

            This is all about money, not quality.

      • I’ve just never enjoyed reading a book by someone with an MFA. I tried to read some of T.C.Boyle and The Lumanaries (a Booker winner) and they just bored me. They felt overwritten and like they were, well, written for a college workshop.

        Are there any writers with Creative Writing MFAs worth reading? I really want to know.

        • @ Samuel

          “Are there any writers with Creative Writing MFAs worth reading? I really want to know.”

          Joe Haldeman.

      • Shatzkin my have a point.

        Publishers are losing fiction market share, but does that loss extend into nonfiction, textbooks, manuals?

        Most of what we observe changing is in fiction. That’s where the independents operate, that’s where Amazon KDP operates, that’s where eBooks have taken a big share, and that’s where the pressure on publishers comes from.

        If we are looking at the publishers as ongoing firm, and doing a financial analysis, we have to look at their full product range.

        However, if we limit ourselves to looking at the fiction segment, we see a very fdifferent picture.

        My expectation is that the conglomerates that own the publishers will just dump fiction, and keep the rest going.

    • I read the first 3 pages of Wolf Hall (it was a gift) and put it back on the shelf. Not for me.

      ETA, if you look at the book on Amazon, you’ll see a pattern in the review summary that always alerts me to a problematic book. While there are a fair number of 5 star reviews, the yellow bars that show the number of lesser reviews is both substantial and even below it. The review bars of a good book should have a cliff-overhang effect. If they just fall straight down, more or less evenly, something is wrong.

    • I don’t read Booker Prize winners (or even finalists) for this reason. Ditto other literary prizes.

      Finalists and winners in my favourite genre contests? Line me up.

  9. What will happen when readers get to pick what they read instead of publishers telling them what to read? Oh, the humanity … publishing will look like the Internet instead of a stodgy old literary journal.

    Hugh Howey is right … more or less, EVERYTHING is genre. “Literary fiction” is a genre. And a highly subsidized one that precious few people bother to read, at that.

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