The Proverbial Sex Reassignment Surgery: What This [Publishing] Transition Is Really About

This post originally appeared on Publishr on 4/27/2010. It’s fascinating to see how visionary the post is now, two years later, and to consider how little the industry has heeded its advice. 

Forget the words “print” and “digital” even exist. Now, what is the transition in publishing really about?

Publishing is, and has been for many years, a B-to-B business. In fact, the walls of the publishing house have traditionally been closed off to anyone without an in. On one end, we have agents who work as buffers to the outside world, so we are not required to interact with anyone who does not have any official business. On the other end, book buyers shield us from having to interact with readers. 

Almost everything about our industry is set up in a way that lessens contact with the outside world. The whole mystique of this industry is based on its inaccessibility to the outsider.

Some examples, to name a few:

Agents: Most publishers do not accepts direct submissions. This, in itself, limits front-end interactions with both published and aspiring authors. In fact, agents serve an important purpose, they act as buffers to the world-at-large, to all the people who think they can write a book. They are the first line of defense, as it were, to prevent contact from the (unsavory) outside world. For scouting works, for performing triage, for acting as a buffer, agents are compensated in percentages based on performance of those things they bring in from the outside.

Review pubs: Industry review publications seem to go beyond just buffering publishers from the outside world, by performing the task of marketing our products to ourselves. This is something that works perfectly in a B-to-B system; different houses vying for space in industry publications to look better than others, our books over your books, our authors have more name recognition than yours, angling for buyers’ attention always with the thought that they will order more copies. Are these publications relevant to the average person on the street who is going to visit a retail location or eCommerce site to purchase a book? No. Not at all.

Industry Conferences: Like review publications, many if not all of our industry conferences consist of self-referential presentations with little to no interest given to the outside world. While this is the case throughout many industries, we seem make a heightened effort to market and promote our latest titles at these conferences. Think about the amount of money spent on galleys, booths, travel, and accommodations for BEA. Take note of the amount, and remember it. It’s going to come back to haunt you.



Read the rest of the post on Publishr.