In reality, markets consist of human beings and the conversations they have with each other, and those conversations can be messy and involve multiple points of influence. For authors trying to develop an effective and sustainable digital strategy, that means you’re not just competing with similar authors and books for readers’ attention—hello, myopic comp titles!—you’re competing with readers themselves and the various channels they use to connect with each other. With the right strategy, though, you're not competing with anyone—you're authentically engaging with and contributing to a dynamic community.
Enthusiast media, aka niche consumer, is my favorite sector because it prioritizes depth over scale, and its KPIs are different from general consumer media's chasing eyeballs for advertisers. Instead of being dumb pipes driven by vanity metrics and anecdata, they can build self-sustaining communities with deep engagement that offers diversified revenue streams, including valuable intersections for marketing partners seeking strategic, long-term relationships. In its ideal form, enthusiast media (and some B2B verticals) combines community engagement, editorial integrity, and paid content into a diversified suite of relevant products and services which simultaneously minimizes its reliance on advertising while optimizing its effectiveness for savvier marketing partners.
One could reasonably argue there were TOO MANY publishers at the Bookfair when you think about the relatively small markets they cater to for literary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as the often myopic focus on a single magazine, ignoring or discounting other ways they could serve their community while ensuring a sustainable future. The relatively low barrier for entry into (and expectations of) literary publishing “let’s people wade in a little over their heads,” as Creative Nonfiction‘s Hattie Fletcher noted during the Literary Innovation session, and many publishers often find themselves living on the brink of insolvency, one time-consuming fundraising pitch away from failure.
Facebook doesn't view publishers as valued partners and never has, despite so many helping it grow and engage a worldwide audience, handing over tons of invaluable data along the way, not just from engagement on Facebook itself, but from their own websites too. All for free! Facebook has transformed that invaluable data into billions of dollars of advertising revenue every year while steadily throttling publishers' ability to reach their own audiences without becoming paid advertisers themselves. It's an objectively and diabolically brilliant model that I simultaneously admire and despise.
For an allegedly liberal industry, publishers do a much better job of packaging and peddling the worst aspects of conservative punditry (along with celebrity memoirs and coloring books), while truth, history, and “diverse” perspectives and experiences are often dismissed as having limited commercial potential regardless of their cultural value. Many are sitting on a treasure trove of great content and access to a roster of truly creative people with timely and compelling insights and ideas that could literally change the world, but we’ll most likely just see a few anthologies cranked out to modest acclaim, with minimal marketing and zero cultural or financial impact.