My Story of Hope for the Publishing Industry

by Don Lafferty on December 18, 2009

I spent yesterday bouncing between publishers and agencies like a pinball, doing what I do; helping authors and publishers find their readers. One publisher at a time. One person at a time. One conversation at time. One convert at a time.

The usual for me.

Except things feel different now.

From my first cup of coffee to my last office party lager, the discussions were wrapped around the shifts in the way publishers will address their markets going forward. While this conversation was a little different everywhere I went, there were common threads of certainty – that something has to change; and uncertainty – how do we throw out the bathwater while taking care of our babies?

The discussions were different than the last couple of years, when the concept of modeling reader behavior and listening to readers’ conversations was considered an ineffective adjunct to more traditional methods of marketing and publicity – to selling more books.

But after yesterday I have faith. I feel better. After all those conversations with authors, publishers, agents, editors, marketing and publicity professionals, I see the changes in attitude I’ve been hoping for. I see change in process, here and there and everywhere.

I see a willingness to listen, and to learn, and to admit that change is no longer an option.

Are some making mistakes along the way? Come on, we all make mistakes. Every industry makes mistakes, especially when faced with drastic shifts in technology that impact consumer behavior resulting in damage to the bottom line. This isn’t so much a condition of the publishing industry as it is a human condition. The inability to change is the precursor of extinction in nature and in business, so, like every other story in life, there’s nothing going on here that hasn’t been done before, it’s just different.

Author and owner of Authorbuzz.com, M.J. Rose, calls the traditional book publishing industry on the carpet over at Edward Nawotka’s online publishing newsletter, Publishing Perspectives. In her article, E-Gads, 2009! Publishing E-pocalypse or a New Age?, she joins the chorus of industry insiders imploring publishers to adapt, citing some very powerful statistics:

  • Fifty-four percent of people now find out about books via online ads.
  • Sixty-seven percent of people buying a book didn’t know what they were going to buy before they walked in the store.
  • There are 60% fewer [traditional] reviews than there were five years ago.

Do those numbers make anybody else salivate? If the statistics don’t frame the opportunity for authors and publishers, let me try to help.

If your online presence is in need of a face lift or is nonexistent, you have an opportunity to expand the reach of your personal brand and your book by 54% just by showing up.

If you “listen” to social networks, and learn about your readers – the people who read the kind of stuff you write – you have an opportunity to educate them before they walk into the bookstore, or convert them to a customer long before they spend their next twenty bucks on a random read.

If you identify the online book reviewers with credibility and community in the space where you write, you have the opportunity to become a contributing member of those communities in a way like never before. To foster trust. To cultivate relationships. To be present between your books. To brand yourself as a contributor, not just That Author who reaches out when they have something to sell.

There’s little doubt that more dramatic change is in store for the publishing industry, the book selling industry, and the author. Familiar names may fade, some will change and prosper, and new ones will emerge, but the industry isn’t contacting, it’s growing.

Consumers are talking with their feet, their status updates, their online profiles and their blog posts. Are you listening?

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