That Time Publishing Lost its Sense of Humor and Missed the Point

“This isn’t a Dickens serialization. This is some dude who is good at faking texts from a dog.”

John Biggs’ humorous takedown of publishing at TechCrunch, inspired by some blog called “Text From Dog” getting a book deal, is full of conjecture and opinion—eg: cookbook sales aren’t yet in decline—and doesn’t make any new points, but it’s pretty funny and something about it resonated with me today, perhaps because it came on the heels of my earlier post about the opportunities for poetry that aren’t being taken advantage of.

“Publishing got rich on Pamela Anderson’s diet book but got famous on Faulkner.”

After I tweeted his article, I posted an off-the-cuff follow-up which led to the kind of nuanced discussion Twitter really isn’t suited for, and someone even hit me back with a #cmonson which was awesome! (Seriously. I love being called out if/when I’ve drifted too far into simplistic punditry.)

Biggs’ underlying point was solid, though, and I suspect it will likely be lost because of the humor and inaccuracies he employed to make it. When all is said and done, publishers offer authors two critical things: services and credibility. Only one of those can be outsourced—there are plenty of laid-off professionals making a decent living as freelancers working for the publishers who let them go—and as Pearson’s acquisition of Author Solutions last week illustrated, publishers are fully aware of that fact.

Credibility, though, is hard-earned and relatively easy to piss away. Whether it’s tarnishing your brand via close association with questionable business practices (Google “Author Solutions scam” for a taste), or aggressively cutting back on mid-list authors while giving flash-in-the-pan bloggers big advances for books that are unlikely to earn out and offer zero long-tail value, the message being sent is publishers don’t really care about publishing good books and investing in authors’ long-term careers anymore.

And that is ultimately the point I took from Biggs’ post. Again, it’s not new, but when so many outside observers feel the need to continually repeat it, maybe it’s because the message isn’t getting through to those who need to hear it?

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