9 Responses

  1. Peter Turner
    Peter Turner February 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm | | Reply

    I always appreciate your posts and admire how you turn words, and there’s in this particular post I agree with. But a few assertions struck me as a reach or maybe even involving spurious reasoning.

    The issue around discovery is not readers can’t find books online; of course they can. It’s never been easier to find a book you’re looking for. The question, at least in my mind, has more do with the quality of what you discover online. I also don’t think Amazon’s 2012 results count as evidence one way or another about this dimension of challenges that online discovery may create for readers. It just shows that Amazon doesn’t have a problem with discovery. Yes, publishers have a problem with discovery; I’d say authors do to. Whether readers have a problem with discovery is conjectural.

    That said, I’d offer that the channels of discovery of quality books is and will be challenged due to the volume of books being “published” digitally and in print. The oft cited figure of an increase if ISBNs to 33M up from 2.5M just a few years ago doesn’t even take into account the number of self-published eBooks, which largely don’t include ISBNs. It is conjectural, I admit, but it seems pretty clear that the size of the haystack must have some effect on how easy it is to find the needle.

    Later on in the post you suggest that publishers would be better off if they published “fewer, better books.” But I don’t think reducing the number of books will necessarily reduce the number of “bad decisions” that acquiring editors might make. Self-publishing is making traditionally published books a smaller portion of the market segment while number of book consumers is flat to down. Is fewer books really the way to go? Maybe, but I’m not sure it addresses any of the key problems facing publishers, unless cutting title counts allows them to dramatically reduce their overhead and invest that more fruitfully elsewhere.

    1. Peter Turner
      Peter Turner February 12, 2013 at 10:39 am | | Reply

      Thanks for the reply. I guess I wasn’t all that clear. What I was trying to say about discovery is that there is no way to tell if readers are not having trouble with it. On “fewer books” I was trying to say that publishers who do this run the risk of not increasing sales of titles they do decided to publish and market and simply loose market share. I’m not advocating one way or another, just trying to highlight that it’s a strategy with risks.

  2. Jim Fallone
    Jim Fallone February 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm | | Reply

    Very good piece. I think publishers are still having difficulty understanding just how much the world they live in has changed. Discovery is the wrong word – what the real problem is is “audience”. I am not sure the quantity and quality of books would be a problem for publishers if they knew how to target and attract the right audience for those books. Publishers need to start thinking more like magazine publishers and begin developing and marketing their editorial voice. The Big 6 are so merged and diluted that any voice Knopf or Scribners had is indistinguishable from the dozen other imprints they share. Verticals like F+W mean targeting audience by topic, genre and interest thus consolidating potential purchases into an audience predisposed to buy similar books. Publishers need to start thinking like TV and radio building direct links to identifiable consumers and herding them into groups that can be marketed to.

  3. Felix Torres
    Felix Torres February 12, 2013 at 9:13 am | | Reply

    100% correct: readers have no Discoverability problem.
    Readers know how to find good reads at good prices and if they don’t they quickly develop a strategy that works for them.

    There is no “discoverability problem”.

    What publishing needs to face up to is that *writers* have a *visibility* problem.
    That publishers have a *marketting* problem. (As in most of them don’t do it. And no, coop placement fees to bookstores is not marketting. It’s “pay to play”; payola to be brutally honest.)

    All the talk in the industry about consumers is as if they were some alien form of life that is unpredictable and unapproachable. Which they might as well be for all the attention publishers paid consumers during the gatekeeping era. But now that era is over and the need to effectively engage the attention of readers is masked with hand-wringing over discoverability.

    By focusing on the one thing they have no control over, consumer habits, the industry gets to talk endlessly without having to actually *change* anything in their time-honored practices.
    And they get to blame it on the consumers.
    Nice and comfy.

    Specialty publishers such as those listed above have no discoverability problem because they have strong brands with high visibility in their chosen market. They have built their brands through quality targetted content to the extent the brand often overshaddows the author. And their brand has its “one thousand true fans” and more.

    Not all publishers can do that but they really need to do more than just crank out “quality” books one after another and hope somebody notices it during the five minutes it is featured on this talk show or that.

    Building an identity for the brand is a pretty basic exercise for most businesses but one that most of the bigger publishers have forgotten about as they merrily commingle celebrity exploitation with litfic with current affairs or even cookbooks without attention to who is buying or why. All they care about is whether a lot of somebodies want to buy it without regard to who those somebodies might be, why they bought, or how to bring them back for more.

    Simply put, most publishers have neither the mindset nor the skillset to deal with the age of abundance we are now entering. They would be well advised to look into a mirror for solutions instead of trying to project their internal problems into a mythical externity.

    Before a solution can be found, you need to identify and acknowledge the real problem.

    Try brand-building and marketting and see if visibility is still a problem.

  4. Wolf Hoelscher
    Wolf Hoelscher February 13, 2013 at 9:25 am | | Reply

    Guy, I’d be interested to hear what you think of the model Twelve has followed since 2005. When they launched, I applauded their vision because, during my years in publishing, the push was always to publish as many books as possible to occupy as much shelf real estate as possible. They did this without hiring more editors, artists, designers, etc. to compensate. As result, those publishers I worked for are now on the verge of collapse. (I own my own company now, thankfully.)

    It’s simple. You’re only as good as the content you produce, and if you’re constantly pushing your staff to edit, design, market, and sell more books than they can handle, the quality of what you produce and you’re ability to market it (as you suggest above) will suffer. If you’re publishing subpar material, it might not be in your best interest to be discovered.

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