Publishers should be idea advocates

rain ruined by (Tres) descamarado
rain ruined by (Tres) "descamarado"

I attended my second BookExpo America last Friday — walking the main floor, talking to several exhibitors and attendees, checking out a couple of panels, hanging out at the #beattweetup later that night — and came away with an odd sense of deja vu. It reminded me a bit of the last National Poetry Slam I attended as more than a spectator, in Seattle back in 2001, which had literally been hit by an earthquake a few months prior, and although the show went on, the metaphorical fault lines that run through the slam community, locally and nationally, were on the verge of erupting.

(NOTE: Do fault lines erupt or emerge?)

While the overall energy on the floor seemed positive, and most of the people I spoke with were upbeat, I wonder how much of that was an effect of shellshock and/or lowered expectations? Sort of like when Sarah Palin didn’t pull out a rifle and shoot Joe Biden during the Vice-Presidential debate, it was a declared a victory for her.

Having had a few days to digest things, and filtered somewhat through the broader lens of the Conversational Marketing Summit I attended earlier this week (thoughts on that to come soon here), here are my five key takeaways from #BEA09:

  1. 1) Traditional publishers still hold the keys to the kingdom, but it’s a diminished kingdom that’s no longer the only civilized or most appealing place to live. Dictatorships don’t scale, but Democracy has its own inherent problems and contradictions. Internet-driven disintermediation means, in theory, that anyone can be a publisher, but content and contex are still important.
  2. 2) Print-on-Demand and ebooks go hand-in-hand, and whomever best nails the integration of the two will win. Booksurge/CreateSpace/Amazon has the edge over Author Solutions, Lulu, SmashWords and Blurb, but Google getting into the mix could be a major game-changer. Side note: the Espresso Book Machine 2.0 is huge, literally, and is going to have a limited impact as long as its footprint is so big.
  3. 3) Will the “almighty algorithm” be allowed to affect what is written and published, eliminating personal insight and instinct from the process? Is there a limit to the alleged “wisdom of the crowds”? Is Google publishing’s Skynet?
  4. 4) Richard Nash is a little crazy, but sometimes it takes someone crazy to step up to the plate before real progress is made. Jeff Bezos was considered crazy at one point, too.
  5. 5) As I posted to Twitter — “publishing’s 24/7 cocktail party” — from the intriguing, Pecha Kucha-esque 7x20x21 panel, Debbie Stier and Pablo Defendi brought it home:
  • #7xBEA Debbie Stier: Best career advice, from Jane Friedman: “Don’t look for something that exists; go make it up.
  • “#7xBEA Pablo of Tor.com gets format; great slides, energetic presentation. ‘Container is irrelevant… Publishers should be idea advocates.'”

Bonus Takeaway: BEA needs to radically transform itself next year, evolving from an insular, trade-only function to one that’s not just open to readers but offers several compelling reasons to attend. Give the industry the daytime hours to themselves, but open it up in the evenings, and schedule some great readings, interviews, debates and autograph sessions that represent the full diversity the publishing world has to offer. From the near ruins of a traumatic past couple of years, let something new and truly buzzworthy take its place.

Published by

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

As in guillotine. Old/new media pragmatist. Sometimes loud, one-time poet, still opinionated. Reading, writing, running, gaming, soccer, beer.

5 thoughts on “Publishers should be idea advocates”

  1. Item #1 is something that I am familiar with and your description is dead on. #2 is something I need to learn more about but has fascinated me for some time. Item 3 is the one that scares the hell out of me. I see it more and more as the people I call on are no longer “buyers” in the traditional sense, but order processors. I'd be better off trying to fix an airline ticket with some poor person in Bhopal.

    To this date, I am still surprised by the number of publishers who have not really seriously tried to move beyond traditional print and aren't even trying digital, social media, etc.

  2. #3 was an interesting point that got a bit of attention from the panel but could have been a whole session of its own. The effects of search on both the quality and intent of content have already been seen with multiple instances of blogola, but when it comes to books, the question of credibility is even more critical. There will always be gatekeepers of one form or another — Digg, Technorati, Twitter, et al, are easily gamed by power users; the “crowds” are usually led by a few vocal minorities — and publishing already has a bad history of chasing trends to the detriment of new voices and ideas.

    As for the slow embrace of the digital realm, I think it partly has to do with the end result. If a publisher isn't doing direct sales, something with clear ROI, the value of a digital presence is often underestimated.

  3. I like the idea of Publishers as Idea Advocates. Could the industry be doing a better job of collectively asserting the value of ideas?

    Regarding the value of a digital presence: this is such a ripe topic for further exploration. I'm particularly interested in the value of content-generation for individuals. What do private individuals get out of creating content? Love, Respect, Regard, Attention, Face, Empathy, Understanding?

    Is there a relationship between individual user value and corporate value? Does the notion of corporate personhood suggest that businesses are somehow benefiting from these decidedly non-monetary values?

  4. An idea, in and of itself, is worthless. Ideas + Execution = Value, and that's where publishers — traditional and new media — come into the picture. IMO, what separates great publishers from the rest is a passion for the community they serve and the content they curate; it's not a numbers game.

    As for what people get out of creating content, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was referenced at least three times at last week's Conversational Marketing Summit. Frank Eliason from Comcast noted that “People blog because they want to be heard.” The successful publishers in the future will connect ideas and communities, curating high-quality content that serves that community's needs and gives them a voice.

  5. An idea, in and of itself, is worthless. Ideas + Execution = Value, and that's where publishers — traditional and new media — come into the picture. IMO, what separates great publishers from the rest is a passion for the community they serve and the content they curate; it's not a numbers game.

    As for what people get out of creating content, Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was referenced at least three times at last week's Conversational Marketing Summit. Frank Eliason from Comcast noted that “People blog because they want to be heard.” The successful publishers in the future will connect ideas and communities, curating high-quality content that serves that community's needs and gives them a voice.

Leave a Reply