Publishers Perform Roles That Writers Need

The definition of “book publisher” is up for grabs, and those in the industry will have to be brave and imaginative, in double-quick time, to lay claim to this new definition. Others might find it easier to begin with a blank sheet.

At heart, publishers exist to create more value for writers than writers can (or wish to) create for themselves. It’s clear that the specifics of this role are changing. Some writers have decided that they can create as much value as they need alone, and feel freer by doing it themselves. Elsewhere there is a debate about where the line lies in a fair return for licensing copyrights, particularly when it comes to older books. Fundamentally, though, the need for publishers endures, even if not in their current form. Readers will be best served by publishers who can marry the best of what is sometimes labeled “legacy” publishing to the new means of developing and delivering what readers want and writers need. (The Guardian)

Stephen Page’s post about the future of publishing is level headed and insightful. He steps away from the increasingly popular bashing of “old publishing” and acknowledges that these legacy book publishers have a distinct advantage if they can adapt quickly. Others have lambasted the traditional publishers for failing to anticipate the tide change. I myself have nagged at this point. But Page reminds us that even as latecomers to the party, existing book publishers stand to reap significant rewards if they can quickly overcome four challenges:

  1. Publishers must update their digital royalty rates.
  2. Publishers must provide high-quality editorial support.
  3. Publishers must build audiences for writers, on and off-line.
  4. Publishers must embrace (and accelerate) technological innovation.

If traditional publishers can quickly, efficiently meet these challenges, “the persistent reporting of the death of old publishing will continue to be mere exaggeration.” Point well taken. But so far, most traditional publishers seem more intent on resisting change — clinging to a model they know and love — than leap-frogging forward. Of course, it’s early, and the race is too the swift and the wise.

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