Book Publishers: You Can't Beat Amazon -- So Join 'Em: Page 2

Posted December 22, 2009

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

(Page 2 of 2)

Besides, the problem with the publishing industry's overemphasis on "platform" is that authors who already have one don't need publishing companies anymore. It's only a matter of time before they discover this. In the book business, the publisher's brand is irrelevant. The author is the brand. Stephen King could self-publish, hiring his own designers, editors and so on -- and keep a lot more of the money. He sells because he's Stephen King, not because of his publisher.

Publishers need to beat Amazon at its own game. If Amazon can buy a self-publishing company, so can Random House. If Amazon can offer a low-cost marketplace for editing, design and publishing services for self-published authors, so can HarperCollins. And if Amazon can get electronic, self-published books to market in days rather than years, so can both Simon & Schuster.

Although it appears that Amazon and the self-publishers have all the advantages, in fact the opposite is true. Self publishing is extraordinarily inefficient, because the author has to be good at everything -- or at least make good decisions about all aspect of a book's creation.

By competing directly with Amazon in the Internet-based self-publishing market, publishing powerhouses have several points in their favor. Increasingly irrelevant advantages include distribution relationships, marketing money, name recognition and access to and influence over book reviewers.

By far the biggest advantage book publishers have is that they still have most of the talent. Book designers, editors, and other professionals at the big publishing houses tend to be very good at what they do.

The core problem in publishing today is this: Book publishers have a floor, and self-publishers have a ceiling. Book publishers feel they can afford only to invest in sure-thing mega-hits. But they know there's gobs of talent out there they're turning away. Meanwhile, the best self-published authors -- who would be bestsellers with a book deal -- can only sell so many books or get so much exposure because they simply can't marshal the resources.

Big publishers can't afford small sales, and self-publishers can't afford big sales. There's a barrier. And the elimination of that barrier is the key to survival for the book industry.

By acquiring and cultivating quality online self-publishing companies, the big publishers could use author-financed publishing as a kind of "farm program" for the "big leagues." The companies could operate on two tiers. The self-publishing tier could freelance out editing and design work like Amazon does, and keep the business largely separate from the existing business.

Instead of looking at books as a risky, publish-it-and-forget-it affair, publishers need to view self-published books as drafts that are pre-tested in the marketplace. Self-published books that gain surprising sales could be fast-tracked into the mainstream system, re-edited and given new cover and design, then pushed into mainstream distribution.

Aspiring authors would know that their best chance of a big publishing deal would be to use the self-publishing services of one of the major houses -- instead of using Amazon's CreateSpace. The tables would turn. Instead of Amazon devouring the traditional publishing business, the publishers would use their existing power to attract authors and decimate Amazon's publishing business.

In the same way that literary talent could be surfaced with lower risk by this process, so could editing and design talent. Stellar freelance creative people might be "discovered," and offered full-time positions.

Everybody knows that major book publishers need to change or die. The solution is to stop fighting the self-publishing revolution and instead join it.

The combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing is a killer combination, and one that Amazon can't touch.

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