crowd_at_Frankfurt_fair-300x217I’ve brought up a number of times the idea that publishers need to do more to connect with the general audience. On Publishing Perspectives, Amanda DeMarco writes that the same holds true in Germany—even at industry events that are open to the public.

DeMarco writes about the Leipzig Book Fair, an open-to-the-public event that had 163,000 visitors this year. She feels publishers missed a great opportunity to inform interested members of the general public about some of the issues that are facing publishers today concerning the migration of books to e-books, online vs. brick-and-mortar sales, and other matters. Surveys show that readers have different points of view from publishers on a number of matters, but publishers don’t seem to be willing to reach out and engage with them.

Even when the representatives of publishing are hanging around in the same room as the general public, some of them can’t seem to be bothered to make the effort to communicate.

A young acquaintance of mine stopped by the Suhrkamp stand to express his interest in an internship. The response: he could find everything on the internet. Now, I know Suhrkamp gets lots of internship-queries, and statistically it may be unlikely that this young man will end up there, but it is highly likely that he is and may continue to be a dedicated Suhrkamp reader.

If you had a flesh-and-blood person with a sixty-year purchasing life-span ahead of him standing in front of you expressing enthusiastic interest in your brand would you tell him, “It’s all on the internet”? I guarantee that if the Suhrkamp guy had taken two minutes to tell my acquaintance something interesting and personal, he would remember that, and he might even tell his friends about it.

In a companion piece on Publishing Perspectives, Edward Nawotka notes:

[It] cannot be disputed that publishing is a business that increasingly needs to engage with the reading public in meaningful ways. Yes, publishers are now on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s often done with a corporate facade and is, ultimately, a marketing effort and a poor substitute for actual person-to-person interaction. In the US, especially, book publishers often have little or no presence at the many local book fairs and festivals that take place around the country, where interaction with the public is largely ceded to booksellers.

I suppose there is a lot of institutional inertia around, and industry professionals—especially the older ones—may simply have the way their industry has worked in the past too deeply ingrained to change easily. But given how much more power consumers are coming into now, for good or ill—just twenty years ago, you couldn’t imagine how easy it would become to download an author or publisher’s entire output off the Internet without paying for it, for just one example—you’d think they would try to make a little more effort.


  1. Take Baen, for example. Baen clearly recognizes that encouraging strong author-reader ties can produce the mythical self-eating watermelon; a community of readers that buys everything an author writes, a self-sustaining career that doesn’t need to worry about piracy because it has guaranteed sales.

  2. I couldn’t agree with your post more completely. In fact, I’ll go you one better. There is nothing preventing authors from taking an assertive role in their own interactions with readers. It’s a difficult task to make contact in a meaningful, supportive, and entertaining way – but it can be done and it is absolutely worth doing.

    I have always made an attempt to answer the e-mail I get from readers, and to continually post material that is fresh, new, and interesting. When that results in book sales, I’m thrilled. When it doesn’t I just know I have to keep at it and apply myself a bit more to the task at hand. Which is…writing, of course.

  3. What would they “communicate,” especially to e-book readers? No amount of schmoozing would change the fact that they are, for the most part, charging us more for less. No amount of Tweets, Facebook postings, and other digital hand-holding would change the fact that they are charging more for books you cannot sell or even give away than for those you can.

    One of my increasingly settled beliefs is that “communication” is overrated — this post illustrates why.

  4. I think what Chris means by more ‘communication’ is more face to face interaction to promote their business. It is not a two way conversation with one side complaining about high eBook prices and other moaning endlessly about piracy.

    This is an industry that made easy money for too many decades, insulated from people who actually read the books. They are now in a dog fight with Indies and self published authors and in a price war to boot. Chris is, correctly, saying is that they need to get out and SELL themselves to readers directly. Whether it be at fairs or through interactive efforts on the web or whatever.

    I agree. It’s good old fashioned business. These behemoths are relying on riding the piracy horse to death and seem to treat their products like vegetable. Just being satisfied to ship them out by the cart load is not good enough if they want to compete in the new world of publishing. I agree 100%.

  5. “Tweets, Facebook postings, and digital hand-holding” are not meaningful communication. Meaningful communication is two-way. That may be via the Internet, or it may be in person. Either way, it provides opportunities for readers to let publishers know how they feel as well as the other way around.

  6. Having worked the trade show booths for over 10 years (BEA in a couple weeks), its actually the old guys who do a better job interacting with people than the younger ones. The old-timers come from the age of hand-selling titles to indie bookstores. Its usually the under 40 group (my peers) who are more apt to hand off a catalog and usher people on their way.

    I think the point in the blog of remembering that every business interaction has ramifications that can span decades is a great point.

    Some publishers do interact and engage readers enthusiastically, some do not. Its not an all or nothing proposition when looking at the industry. Those who don’t will whither. Those who do may yet be able to provide value into the future.

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