Children’s Writing Weblog

Book Industry, Meet the Record Industry. Meet Your Future.

Posted on: May 10, 2011

Over at the Yahoo Children’s Writing Group, someone asked me for an opinion about the future of publishing houses in the new e-publishing age. Some of you may find it interesting, so I’ll reprint it here:


I’d look to the music industry for answers, as it experienced this same turmoil
a decade ago. And (mostly) they blew it.

The new media environment begs for curators — trusted sources who can sift
through the dross and deliver quality. Once upon a time, that’s exactly what
record labels were. Atlantic delivered quality east coast soul, Elektra had its
finger on the pulse of the L.A. scene, Sire was the champion of the New York and
London new wave, etc. But as mega-conglomerates bought up the record labels,
they lost their identities. Go ahead an tell me what Sony or Warner or EMI
stand for musically today? You can’t, because they’re not curators, they’re
giant distribution funnels for any kind of music they think can sell.

But here’s the rub: the distribution of music got yanked out right from under
them, thanks to the Internet. So now what is their purpose?

The same thing is happening in publishing now. Large publishers aren’t viewed
as trusted sources of quality books in specific genres/age groups. Think about
it — when was the last time the publisher’s name on the spine of a book gave
you reason to think a book was good or not?

Now, as book stores become less important, and anyone can get worldwide
distribution of their ebook via Amazon with a click of the mouse, what’s the
future of the big houses?

My suggestion for them: Use (or create) imprints to market to niches, and hire
the best editors you can. Stand for quality within each niche and nothing but.
Then, invest in social marketing geniuses and give every book you publish and
every author with whom you work complete and comprehensive marketing support.

Group authors together for multi-author blogs and school visit “teams”.

Next, consider the Godin/Doctorow “free” model and convince authors it’s in
their best interests to give some ebooks away with an eye toward spurring word
of mouth and print sales (this would be an excellent approach for picture books,
IMHO, as paper will still be desirable in that realm for a long while). (and
for goodness sakes, don’t sue your customers over copyright the way the record
industry did. You can’t scare people into refusing to accept technology. YOU
have to adapt to new realities, not ask your customers to travel back in time.)

One last point toward your comment about “star authors” — This is a new reality
where ANY author can become a star. Build a huge Twitter following, a loyal
blog readership, an active Facebook fan page and guess what? You’re a star, and
you’ll have legit leverage with publishers.

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