business modelsDigitaleBooksfuture of publishing

who needs publishers?

A quick heads-up for anyone who’s not yet seen Sara Lloyd’s excellent piece for US-based library journal, Library Trends, called A Book Publisher’s Manifesto for the 21st Century, on how traditional publishers need to adapt to the new media economy – something we’re always banging on about on this blog. The whole article is now available as a PDF. Here’s a short extract:

Print sales are falling. According to the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2007 report To Read or Not to Read both reading standards and voluntary reading rates of traditional print material amongst young people are falling. Textbook publishers are fighting for sales; campaigning to alert students to the necessity of using their products. Hardback fiction has almost gone the way of the dinosaur. The open access debate rages on. Publishers and retailers have consolidated. More and more books are produced, but there is less and less choice on the high street. Leisure time is transferring away from books and reading, away from television even, to the Web; to social networking sites, blogs, instant messaging, video and music file sharing sites. The attention economy is shrinking, fast. Academic research is – for many students – all about search. Let’s face it, for most students, actually, it’s all about Google. Who needs books anymore? More to the point, who needs publishers?
In an ‘always on’ world in which everything is increasingly digital, where content is increasingly fragmented and ‘bite-sized’, where ‘prosumers’ merge the traditionally disparate roles of producer and consumer, where search replaces the library and where multimedia mash-ups – not text – holds the attraction for the digital natives who are growing up fast into the mass market of tomorrow, what role do publishers still have to play and how will they have to evolve to hold on to a continuing role in the writing and reading culture of the future? Will there even be a writing and reading culture as we know it, tomorrow? Is the publishing industry acting fast enough and working creatively enough to adapt to the new information and leisure economies?

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Jon Reed

Jon Reed is a content writer, author, screenwriter, lecturer, blogger - and the founder of Publishing Talk. He was previously a publisher for 10 years. Publishing Talk aims to help new and emerging authors write, publish and sell books. Advice is available via the blog and our masterclasses and membership programme. More...

3 thoughts on “who needs publishers?

  • I am sure you are talking about the US. In the UK, printed book sales have increased mainly due to discounting. However many of the problems you mention about limited range and in bookshops is universal. I propose this is due to fears of a recession, the literary merit of books and the celebrity cult. Fears recession I need say no more than it is motivated by commercial constraints. Asking for literary merit in children’s books is putting off readers with poor skills, the want to be entertained. Lastly, celebrity books looks like a great idea except they often are not original works. The may fill the bookshops in busts of buyers but they give no long-term future for the industry, unless it is trivia we are looking for.
    I have seen some appalling books sold just because of advertising and marketing revenues backing them. It is quality of enthralling reads, which will keep people coming to bookshops and other media.

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