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Publishers' core functions in an eBook world

September 24, 2012

Tags: book publishing, ebooks, licensing, rights

Mike Shatzkin writes this week of changing models in book publishing, in which publishers will "offload everything except the functions that are absolutely core to publishing: editorial selection and development, rights management, and marketing." Authors, pay attention! He is writing about publishers, but authors may want to rethink their business models, too.

"If distribution no longer requires scale, what does that mean to the companies that not only succeeded by creating distribution at scale, but which also are largely locked in to their high-cost, high-maintenance infrastructures?" writes Shatzkin. In the digital world, book publishers aren't going to gain strength through their ability to market and deliver books to retail outlets all around the country. So a new firm called Brightline will partner with Atavist, writes Shatzkin, in New publishing companies are starting that are much leaner than their established competitors. Here is the NY Times story he refers to: Media Chiefs Form Venture to E-Publish.

Shatzkin's points are particularly of interest to authors: "We are getting closer to the day when all a publisher really will need to 'own' is the ability to acquire and develop good books and ways to reach the core audience for them persuasively and inexpensively. " Right now, publishers count on authors to reach those core audiences. Certainly with the number of incompetently written and edited self-published books on the market, that "ability to acquire and develop good books" is still a function someone needs to provide. But what authors I know are wondering is this: Do the functions the publishers now provide warrant the huge share of income that they get (and the slim share that authors get).

For me as a reader, what a publisher provides is a partial guarantee that when I plunk down my money I probably am not buying shoddy goods. With self-published books, the chances of shoddy goods are higher. But if there were a filtering mechanism to separate the great from the good from the awful, would publishers be so important to the process? Certainly being published by a known house does not guarantee reviews, as review outlets are dwindling and have less space for reviews ) Book World, the Washington Post's book review section, is gone, for example, apart from brief appearances; the Post does run some book reviews in the regular paper, but does not reliably cover all the good new books coming out.)

Mike Shatzkin's blog in full is here: New publishing companies are starting that are much leaner than their established competitors . Do read the Comments, too.