Never mind the folly of dismissing Goodreads, a social network dedicated to books with 13m+ members and is steadily growing, or even Pinterest, where Random House has inexplicably attracted 1.5m followers, but the very idea that “something is really, chronically missing in online retail discovery” is arguably contradicted by Amazon’s 2012 results, suggesting that “online retail discovery” isn’t really a problem for readers. It’s a problem for publishers.
For the third consecutive year, I had the pleasure of doing a presentation on social media for my friend Peter Costanzo’s M.S. in Publishing: Digital and Print Media class at NYU last night, and while preparing for it, I was surprised by how much has changed since the first time, and how much hasn’t. Pinterest and Tumblr are bigger deals now (or at least perceived as such), while Twitter is steadily maturing (from a business perspective), Facebook changes its approach every six months, and email is still the underrated king of the hill.
Being sold for only slightly more than the revenue you brought in the prior year isn’t exactly a signal that anyone believes the company has a lot of growth potential, especially not one whose roster theoretically covers the full gamut of shiny author services so many seem to believe are publishing’s revenue streams of the future. Plus, ASI was apparently on the block for a while with no buyer, so I find Penguin’s CEO John Makinson’s claim odd, as reported by Publisher’s Lunch, that he expects there will be a “new and growing category of professional authors who are going to gravitate towards the ASI solution rather than the free model.” So then, what’s the real angle here?
A large part of GOOD’s appeal was its unique business model, its compelling mission, and its target audience: “For People Who Give a Damn.” While not replicable in any scalable way, it had a far more noble mission than the mercenary and fickle “connecting advertisers to eyeballs” model of most magazines, and it looks like that mission ultimately forced a complete and radical rethinking of the magazine itself.
That “Local First” angle is what disturbs me the most, latching on to a legitimate movement whose most compelling hook focuses on locally sourced goods and sustainability, to support booksellers whose primary focus is usually selling the products of multi-national corporations who treat them like second-class citizens. The bookstores that are true pillars of their communities don’t need hollow slogans and dreams of going viral on YouTube, because they prove on a daily basis why they matter to their communities.