I've been reading Sara Lloyd's "Book Publisher's Manifesto for the 21st Century."
It's a very interesting essay. These sections stood out to me:
We will need to think much less about products and much more about content; we will need to think of ‘the book’ as a core or base structure but perhaps one with more porous edges than it has had before. We will need to work out how to position the book at the centre of a network rather than how to distribute it to the end of a chain. We will need to recognise that readers are also writers and opinion formers and that those operate online within and across networks. We will need to understand that parts of books reference parts of other books and that now the network of meaning can be woven together digitally in a very real way, between content published and hosted by entirely separate entities. Perhaps most radically, we will have to consider whether a primary focus on text is enough in a world of multimedia mash-ups. In other words, publishers will need to think entirely differently about the very nature of the book and, in parallel, about how to market and sell those ‘books’ in the context of a wired world. Crucially, we will need to work out how we can add value as publishers within a circular, networked environment.and
Publishers need to provide the tools of interaction and communication around book content and to be active within the digital spaces in which readers can discuss and interact with their content. It will no doubt become standard for digital texts to provide messaging and commenting functions alongside the core text, to enable readers to connect with other readers of the same text and to open up a dialogue with them. Readers are already connecting with each other – through blogs, discussion forums, social book-marking sites, book cataloguing sites and wikis. Publishers need to be at the centre of these digital conversations, driving their development and providing the tools for readers to engage with the text and with each other if they are to remain relevant.The idea that texts exist as networked content that can be broken down into components that can be recombined with other networked content in a multitude of contexts is a huge focus in digital humanities scholarship. Remixing and recontextualization through mashups isn't just a scholarly activity by any means. Anybody who has bought a song from iTunes and added it to a playlist has taken a single component from a larger whole that was once considered the only possible unit of distribution (an album) and recontextualized it (a personal thematic playlist).
Publishers are finally beginning to understand that the "book as unit" model is no longer the only model for distribution -- in fact, that will soon no longer be the dominant model for any media distribution.
That said, I hope publishers don't throw the baby out with the bathwater in the rush to identify new paradigms for digital distribution and reading on the screen. I still buy and read books. They are still a content unit with meaning. Publishers need to think about how they will continue to distribute books, but in a way that they can be consumed and retained as a whole OR broken down into components for consumption and re-use.
Another major topic in the manifesto is one that I have never given any conscious consideration -- do book buyers give any thought to publisher brands? Her answer is no, they do not. I sometimes take note of the publisher or line -- Vintage Crime for example -- because I have come to associate their line with titles that I have enjoyed in the past, so I'm more likely to look at one of their books on the shelf now and in the future. I have a lot of books from Tuttle and Kodansha because they publish Japanese fiction in translation. Anyone who has shopped at the New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, knows they arrange their stock by _publisher_, so you'd better have that noted in your WTB lists when you go there. But why else would anyone ever give any thought to the publisher?
My recognition of Vintage Crime, Kodansha, and Tuttle is proof that one of Ms. Lloyd's suggestions for publishers -- deep genre niche brands -- is not far off the mark. And she suggests that publishers need to market directly to their consumers rather than letting the next link in the distribution chain, e.g., booksellers, become the recognized brand through their marketing efforts. Publishers need to learn the basics of digital promotion in addition to digital distribution. I can think of a lot of book promotion experts I know: Bella Stander, Kevin Smokler, and M. J. Rose -- who would agree.