Old-Style Publisher vs. New-Style
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Part 2 of 3: The Brave New Publishing World
Yesterday I gave you a glimpse into how the role of the agent is morphing, as publishing’s changes are coming at all of us faster than we can keep track of them. But what about publishers? How are they staying on top of the changes?
If you’re like me, some days it seems as though they’re not. After all, a traditional publisher is steeped in the way things used to work–and has the warehouse and systems to prove it. Turning even a smaller-sized publishing boat around is a big job that requires lots of imagination, energy and vision.
But this past week I had a conversation with a traditional publisher that was heartening. He explained that they had torn down the invisible walls that created departments–marketing, editorial and publicity–and instead created teams to…drumroll, please…look for product specific readers needed/wanted. The idea is to turn publishing on its head. Instead of trying to convince a reader that he or she has a certain need, the idea is to start out with the reader’s needs and then find projects that fit the bill. The publishing house is organized by reader-types rather than by functions employees perform.
It seems so reasonable, yet it’s easy for a publisher to take on the sole role of tastemaker rather than taste satisfier. (And there certainly are dangers in trying to be a responder-only to readers, including abdicating a role publishing has always played in our culture of pushing society’s envelope, forcing readers to think about a subject differently.)
In this new-style publishing, the publisher connects directly with the reader to determine what he/she wants; creates that product; announces directly to the reader the product is available; and then asks the reader for feedback. Did this title satisfy the reader? (The place of the bookstore in all this is another question to be dealt with.)
I know other publishers have done away with their departments to form editorial/marketing/publicity teams to reach specific readers. But this publisher has taken that trend one step further and decided that the reader should set the trends.
Will this plan work? No one knows. But this is an era in which, if we don’t try something new, we’re stuck in old-style publishing, and that boat is motoring toward an iceberg.
As a reader, how do you respond to a publishing house being structured this way?
As a writer, how do you respond to this idea?
What else do you think publishers need to do to stay afloat in the fast-changing publishing world?