Last week NPR’s Audie Cornish talked with Michael Pietsch and Mark Coker about the future of the publishing industry. Pietsch currently is head of Little Brown and will come on as CEO of Hachette in the spring. Coker is the founder of Smashwords, a self publishing website platform that was founded in 2008. They discussed the future of publishing in today’s changing marketplace.
I have heard more opinions on today’s publishing industry in the past six months than I ever have before in my life. I have seen optimism, pessimism and skepticism from professionals in the industry, although there have been many more positive attitudes about the future of publishing than one might think. I talked about this subject a few months ago with my post on ebooks versus print books. With new technology comes new challenges and new opportunities.
In his interview Mark Coker, stated that traditional publishing venues will become more obsolete in the coming years with the rise of the ebook and the self publishing marketplace. He says that self publishing went from being a “last resort…for failed writers [to] the option of first choice for writers.” He says that books will become more varied, pronounced, and books that match their unique interests will become more available to more readers around the world”. He calls this the early stages of a renaissance in publishing. He says that instead of publishers deciding if a book is worth reading this job will transfer to the readers.
Pietsch agrees with Coker that this is a great time for books and publishing, but he stands firmly by the fact that traditional publishing houses are a vital element of this golden era. He says that Smashwords is a great addition to the publishing industry, but is not replacing traditional methods. He says that “…the ways that publishers can work to connect readers with writers now are the kinds of things that publishers have dreamt of doing since Gutenberg first put down a line of type.” According to Pietsch, a publisher’s job of getting good books out to the public has not changed. It is how the news gets to the public that has changed. The internet and social media allows excitement and news about a book to be “amplified, and repeated and streamed and forwarded and linked” whereas before excitement was primarily based on book reviews in papers. Even if a book did get into the New York Times best seller list, the Book section of the paper only comes out on Sunday. Pietsch says that this new technology and connectivity of the internet and social media has “energized the whole business in a thrilling way”.
When asked about publishing houses picking up self published authors, Pietsch says that the reason the writer would choose to do this is for marketing reasons. They have already created their work and gotten it out there, but now they have the chance to be backed by a big name publisher, and have the resources of that publisher’s marketing department open to them. Whether you are a fan of 50 Shades of Gray or not, you cannot ignore the fact that at least one of the reasons that it became such a big phenomenon was that it has Random House’s name and reputation attached to it. These marketing departments also have a broad view of the current marketplace beyond the traditional bookstores to include special markets such as Target, Costco, and other potential sellers of books.
Social Media is a huge part of any business now a days, including the business of publishing. While I was at NYU hardly one lecture would go by without the mention of Social Media. While I believe that not every business, needs to be on every platform, social media does allow businesses to get information out to the public than they would otherwise. Twitter is particularly vital to this process I believe with its fast paced updates and wide range of users. While I was at NYU I worked as a Social Media Director for our mock magazine brand, and really saw the Social Media process in a new light. It really allows an industry to target a particular audience in a new way. It might feel like Twitter has been out for a while and isn’t really news anymore, but in the large scheme of things, and in the large scheme of the publishing industry in particular, Twitter is still a new phenomenon.
Although they come from different sides of the industry both Coker and Pietsch agree that now is a really interesting and positive time for the publishing industry. There are many more venues for content to get to readers than ever before. There does seem to be a sort of on going battle between traditional and self publishing venues going on here, but at the same time they do seem to be coexisting as well. Perhaps when a balance is struck that is when we will enter the next stage of the publishing renaissance of the 21st century.