gatekeeper.jpgIn previous articles, I have speculated on the future of ebook hardware and on the future of the bookstore . But how about the publishers and content providers? What will their role be?

I think the role of the publishing house, certainly when viewed from the standpoint of being a content gatekeeper authors must pass through to reach the market, will diminish substantially. What we will see instead is the rise of the educated critic—in other words, some blogger or reviewer of influence (or several) will become the Oprah(s) of the internet book world and people will increasingly rely on them to filter through the boggy mass of the great internet Slush Pile and lead them to the good stuff. Things like Amazon ranking or some other rating system will be very important. People will browse by rating and the cream of the content will hopefully rise to the top.
This could be bad news or good news for the publishing houses of today, depending on how swift on the uptake they are with this. What they need to do is leverage the power of their on-line stores in some of the ways I describe in my future of the bookstore article; to give one example, the cross-promotion really has to be the way of the future for them. Instead of having someone’s Nook offer them a mere free cookie, have it be a free cookie based on a recipe in a certain book, and give them a free sample to read while they are eating the cookie in the store. Or if I buy a book that is a prize-winner, put together a freebie anthology for me with samples from other books which have won the same prize. Publishers need to spend less time writing silly DRM programs and preventing people in the UK from spending money and more time actually promoting their authors and selling copies of their books.

I think we will at the same time increasingly see authors make less money from the actual book and more money from ancillary deals: speaking events, sales of art work relating to the book, syndicating the book as a blog and collecting ad revenue, or even television-esque product placement. Those who can both write good books and think outside the box with a commercial mindset can potentially map some interesting roads here—I think the next big internet publishing success story, following the Scott Sigler Podcasts His Way to a Book Deal thing, will be the author who releases the book under a ‘the book is free but the movie rights cost 5 million dollars’ type of deal and actually gets a taker. Just remember, before you bemoan the death of real literature, that Shakespeare made the bulk of his money through a cut of the ticket proceeds for the plays he staged, not through actual bound paper copies!

I have heard every argument from authors in the past on how they are writers, not publicists, but that mindset has to change. No career is immune from drudge work and if you are going to treat this as a job and not a hobby, this is where it will happen for writer-types. I don’t think any business has the right to assume that the way things have been is the way they will or should remain forever after!


  1. I’ve always been interested in the role of the educated critic but uncertain about the business model. Let’s face it, most readers are overwhelmed by reading material already. When it comes to agents and publishers, we read the slush because that’s our job, because our compensation comes from reading the slush and finding the fractional percent that excites us. Now, maybe agents could eliminate the middle-man and become educated critics, but it seems to me they could only do so by abandoning their agent role and becoming…publishers.

    If you’re a voracious reader, do you really want to read a bunch of unreadable slop? Because, frankly, most of my submissions are not publishable, are not what I’d read for pleasure (then again, what a pleasure to discover those few that shine). If you’re a voracious reader who is trusted, how would you collect on your recommendations when you finally do find the jewel in the slush? Do you publish a consumers reports type of book review? Who would buy it?

    If I were a paid smart expert, wouldn’t I be well served to read Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer and Nora Roberts first because most of the commission revenue, like most sales revenue, comes from the best-sellers. Why waste my time with slush knowing that only a small number of readers would be willing to take a chance?

    I think the answer is, you’d only do so if you could get an exclusive arrangement. But then, wouldn’t you want to add editing services…to make sure the book was as good as possible? And once you’ve done that, maybe spend a bit on formatting to make the book attractive. And covers? Do we trust authors to be artists and come up with their own cover-art? Surely you’d want to maximize your chances of success by hiring professional artists. Oh, and distribution. Wouldn’t you want to maximize the distribution outlets? Oh and, oops. Aren’t you a publisher all of a sudden?

    Rob Preece

  2. Wow, I couldn’t agree more with this post. Its exactly what I have been thinking. As an author you have to become ‘Author, Inc.’. Start thinking along the lines of you are a small business person and your business is not only creating the content but marketing and selling it.

    Personally, I more influenced by ratings given by end consumers than by ‘experts’ or other advocates. Reason being my cynical side comes out and I wonder about payola.

    “I don’t think any business has the right to assume that the way things have been is the way they will or should remain forever after!”

    Well said, this assumption is the major reason for the downfall of nations, businesses and individuals.

    The tag line I use on my emails:
    Everything Always Changes

  3. Not every author is self-publicity cross-pollinating sort. In fact, many authors are somewhat introverted. For those who wish to do some sort of “circuit” — physical or virtual, good for them. But that should not be a pre-requisite to the creation, and selling, of good writing. And it should not be the determining factor on whether the author has enough to eat. Do we really want a world where a Raymond Chandler relies on royalties from ancillary rights — Philip Marlowe PEZ dispensers for example — to earn a reasonable living?

    I’m not knocking the additional revenue streams for authors; but it’s not for everyone. A fair deal from the publishers and distributors is really more important.

    People tend to want more of what they’ve discovered they like and use that to expand their universe of experiences. One of the “paradigm shifts” in retailing is Amazon’s recommendation engine. It not only helps me find easily works by the same author, but authors of similar genre. It incorporates the logic of previous buyers as well as allows me to rate things I have or know about to fine-tune it. While the views of an Informed Critic or enthusiastic fans are helpful, I have been extremely impressed on how helpful Amazon’s tool is in exploring for more.

  4. Alexander, I am sorry but I 100% disagree with you. Every single job out there has parts of it that its practitioner does not prefer, and if you want he job, you suck it up and do it or else you get a different job. My grandfather for example is just the sort of person you describe who does not self-promote, and that is why for him, his works of art (he is a very talented wood-worker) remained just a hobby. He made things for family and friends, occasionally dabbled in a craft show or two and that was that. He could have made a career out of it had he made different choices; certainly in this ebay/Etsy age, he could have. But he didn’t want to do those things, so he relied on other means to make his bread and butter.

    My cousin is another example. He does have that drive as a musician, so he plays gigs and teaches private lessons and does everything he can to hustle and make a living for himself. His father, who is equally talented, does not have that hustling drive and so he has a day job and then plays the gigs he chooses, when he chooses, and when they happen to come along.

    Or for a more mundane example, I am a really great teacher but I do not excel at recess duty. Oh well, tough luck for me. When my turn comes out, I do it and if doing it were to be a deal-breaker for me, I wouldn’t have that job. People make these sorts of concessions all the time to get the jobs they want. It frankly baffles me that writers seem to think they should be exempt from any such compromises.

    I agree with you that it may not ‘be for everyone’ but that, to me, is what is going to separate the hobyyists from the professionals, for better or worse. That is just how the world works—if you want to treat writing like a business, you have to do business-y things, even if you don’t always want to.

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