When your line of published work is missing quality, consistency and a connection to your target audience, the death of your publishing house is just a logical result of the neglect to the core of your very business: the quality of the work of the authors you are representing.
This week, Jurgen Snoeren, publisher and founder of Link posted a post about the dilemma’s of publishers in this period of time. The title: “Reading should become cool again”. In Dutch.
The blog post covers the difficulties publishers and bookstore owners have with e-books, the question whether e-books are a disruption or just another shape of the same thing, whether people are reading/buying less (no), other competitors in the area of free time (i.e. games and playing games), visibility of the books / the works themselves and what publishers might want to focus on (reaching their buyer audience, spending more attention to the individual books that are published).
Publishers should focus on what is important first for us as readers, which is their identity.
- Who am I?
- What do I love?
- What do I believe in?
- What is the gap? / What do I think is missing in my field?
- What makes me unique my field?
- How and where do I promote that?
- How do I maintain that (quality / visibility)?
- How does this all connect with my beliefs and my vision?
The work they publish should connect to that identity.
- What past, current and future writers do reflect my specific vision?
- How do I reach them?
- How do they reach me?
- How can I make it even more awesome?
And money needs to be made
- Where do I sell this?
- To whom?
- For what price?
- In what volumes?
Last: it is all about the reader.
- Who are they?
- What do they like?
- Who are the ones with the kind of taste that matches my offer?
- How are they currently catered in those needs?
- Who else is there on my side of the line?
- What do they provide to satisfy those readers?
- How can I reach them?
- Can I do better?
The object is not the product
The book is the object. The product is not the book. The product — in the case of “books” — is the writing itself.
Produce a collection of awesome writing (which is subjective to the audience you cater) and your reputation as a brand will rise. Produce a collection of inconsistent or poor writing (subjective bla bla bla) and your reputation as a brand will drop.
If and when the writing itself is the product, the only two things relevant are: “how do we get this writing to our customers” and: “how do we make money out of that to — at least — break even?”
e-books are just another means to carry the real product: the writing, to the reader. As are websites and as is paper.
The publisher as curator
In my very personal opinion (which I stated in this blog-spot before) is that the publisher is the curator. It is my shiny beacon to specific writing from specific authors that cater as many parts of my specific needs and wants as possible.
I can pick up any book from my favorite publisher, knowing it will hit something good inside of me.
Any publisher that does not do that, is- or becomes irrelevant for me.
It does not matter how visible a publisher is or how much marketing-money is spent to gain my attention. If they do not cater my needs, they and most, if not all their published / collected work becomes irrelevant.
The consumer as incompetent decision maker
In old-school marketing and old-school thinking, the consumer is incompetent. That incompetent consumer needs to be educated to understand what is “good” and the education we use is marketing.
Advertisements! Reviews! Presentations! Nice cover-images! A catchy blurb with all the relevant buzzwords on the back of the book! More money to convince the mass of the obvious!
While advertisements has proven to be effective in “educating” people to believe certain things, it is a very expensive and very unreliable. One mistake and you might fall out of grace with your audience. Especially when what is advertised is different from what people experience with the actual product.
The competent consumer: quality of delivery as the actual driver for future sales
With the competent consumer, the quality of product itself defines its relevance. Not your wonderful and glorious sales-stories count, but your actual results.
It all revolves around expectations and how they are met by your product. These can be low: pulp-literature. These can be high: complicated stories with several layers.
With competent consumers (which is more people than you might expect), your shiny pitch is only briefly relevant: when they first meet you. Once they hold your product and read the first lines, they will form their own opinions. Which might be completely different from what you believe they are.
You become irrelevant when you do not deliver
This is a period of time in which the consumer has many choices and in which entire brands can become irrelevant in a matter of years or even months.
As a publisher, I believe the biggest threat is to lose your relevance. By poor choices, poor quality of work, poor delivery, poor consistency. Regardless of how much effort you spend in becoming visible, when your audience does not like you, loses trust in your judgement and holds the opinion that you deliver poor results, you have lost the game.
Make it work
A relevant publisher is one that collects and offers me a line of work that is predictable in consistency and quality. That can be complete pulp. That can be “high literature”. The keywords are: consistency and predictability.
Once I pick up one of your books book, I should blindly pick up one other book and find similar quality, similar elements, similar awesomeness as that is what I expect from you, what I am looking for. I want YOU to do the work of endless browsing and filtering through endless lists of possible authors. Then give me the best you could find within your specific vision of “what is important to read”.
Real threats for the publishing industry?
Books itself have survived radio, television, movies, computer games and other forms of lazy consumption of fictional content. It will probably do so for the next set of centuries.
Talking about the threats of e-books and new markets and how complicated the shift might be due to new and different business models that have not proven themselves yet is surely relevant, but when your line of published work is missing quality, consistency and a connection to your target audience, the death of your publishing house is just a logical result of the neglect to the core of your very business: the quality of the work of the authors you are representing.