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Friday, Mar. 2, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Book Publishers Need a Reality Check

By Mike Drew
March 2nd, 2007

Courtesy of Slate.com (and Google Image Search)A Day in the Life of a Persuasion Architect brought back an interesting blog post by “Mike” on Techdirt.

In it, ‘Mike’ argues that:

“Book publishers have been pretty vocal in their dislike for Google’s plan to scan books and make them searchable via a great big electronic card catalog — claiming that this somehow is a misuse of their content.”

“The question, really, is why bother? All these publishers are creating limited, expensive, fragmented searches for books, when Google (and others such as Yahoo and Amazon) are more than willing to do the work for them, while bringing all the offerings together.”

I couldn’t agree more. Then ‘Mike’ really hits the nail on the head when he states, “There are very, very few people in this world who think about books in terms of who published them.”

The problem with the publishing industry today—especially most large New York publishers—is that their mindset is the same as it was 10 years ago; which is to say their posturing suggests they still “make” authors, as though a book’s reader ever gave a damn about its publisher in the first place. This highly seductive form of self-delusion, a seemingly benign relic of a forgone era, is the publisher’s biggest challenge in today’s marketplace–and hitting the proverbial ‘snooze button’ on the internet for the past 10 years hasn’t helped.

The very few exceptions to this phenomenon include niche categories in which there are very few publishers to begin with. For instance, TOR (fantasy books), ELSEVIER (medical books), Lawgic Publishing Company (forms, document-generating systems, and reference books for lawyers), or IEEE Publishing and Information Services (technology books). Otherwise, book buyers tend to notice the publisher once they’ve already bought it, if at all.

Publishers need to understand that book consumers buy what THEY want to read. Sometimes they buy because an author commands their respect. Sometimes they buy books because of referrals from friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, or trustworthy and/or engaging critics. Sometimes they buy a book simply because it directly fills their immediate whim or need. But none of theses reasons have anything to do with the publisher.

Instead of worrying about brand affinity–which, ironically, only impresses aspiring authors–or whether they’re losing potential buyers because of Google’s plan to scan books and make them searchable, publishers need to catch up with the times and start treating books for what they are: content. Lest they should perish, publishers should ask bigger questions, like, “What other ways are there to develop content?” or “How else can I sell content in today’s market?” Or better yet, they should find answers to these questions–and quickly.

Note to publishers: So, you publish books. Fantastic. Want to buy a PDF? If you don’t wish to become obsolete within the decade, stop focusing on what others are doing and start focusing on how you can actually “make” authors through content diversification.

Note to authors: If you think publishers know how to market, I’ve got some land near Atlantis I can sell you at a low, fixed rate.

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Comments (12)

  1. O.K. I am a great fan of this blog and the books created by Future Now. So, here’s a challenge for you from an author (with a publisher, HarperCollins, who has demonstrated it’s open to experimenting):

    As you may know, we put the full text of my book “Go It Alone! The Secret to Building A Successful Business On Your Own (HarperBusiness, Nov. 2004) up online for free, ad supported at BruceJudson.com, at the same time the paperback was onsale in stores. Now, I have launched a new blog, Ventures Without Capital.com that extends the ideas in “Go It Alone!” by identifying the relevant low-cost Internet services that can leverage a business on an ongoing basis. VenturesWithoutCapital.com can serve as a platform for an ongoing connection with an interested audience and a base for new, related information products (such as video information and subscription services). So, what else should I be doing? What should I suggest to my publisher that we could be doing that we are not doing?

  2. Mike –

    Interesting take. I also think frankly most book publicists need a reality check as well at those same companies and even the independent self-published publicists.

    I’ve had remarkable success as a publicist for two different genre business books by reaching out to bloggers and online sites that are in the arena these books cover.

    In particular, with one book on management – we’ve had a fantastic response and my story about how we did it on the blogging side is included in the MarketingSherpa 2007 Wisdom report.

    More and more the key to anything (and I’ve written about the Net for 15 years) is to consistently repurpose your content. And as well, I would add to consistently target new audiences. The old days of fax blasts, email blasts and just sending a press pack with a book are going, going , gone…

    I also write the Must Read Business books blog for allbusiness.com and I can’t tell you how many big publishers send me books that don’t fit within what my topic of coverage is, never follow up on the queries they do send and are non-responsive when I try to contact them. Yet, I’ve interviewed leading authors for the blog!

    The key for books to be successful is not for the authors to count on the publishers or specifically a publicist, but for everyone to work together as a team and keep pushing the book out there.

    Nettie H.

  3. Bruce,

    I’ve worked with HarperBusiness, and I like them. But what your asking is what you can do to improve book sales, not what your publisher can do. Unfortunately, even HarperBusiness only understands media platforms. Media platforms are easy to understand, and easy to work with, business platforms are not. It takes real work to understand the platform of a business owner/author. Unfortunately, publishers have neither the time nor the energy to invest in understanding your business.

    So, your real question is what can you do to sell books yourself. The short answer is do everything in your power to sell your book. The long answer is to sit down, evaluate the business value of the book, and determine how best to integrate the book into your various products and services.

    If HarperBusiness were interested in trying something new, I would suggest they work with you to develop and sell e-books, white papers, reports, audio books, teleseminars, workshops and seminars. They could have their editors work with you on developing the content, have their design and production team develop the products/services, and pay you a royalty for the products and some sort of split for those services that required your time. Talk about building a content platform and “making” authors as publishers once did!

    If HarperBusiness were to implement this content diversification strategy, they’d find their business much more profitable.

    Frankly, if the New York publishers don’t do this, mid-sized publishers will.  New York publishers will either go the way of the dodo, buy the mid-sized publishers, or implement this strategy.

    For those non-New York publishers out there, is anyone willing to be the first to start publishing content the way it should be?  If so, you’ll take over the publishing world.  Now’s your chance.
    Michael R. Drew

  4. Nettie,

    I agree with you. The publishing industry is in flux.

    The problem with the publishing industry as a whole is that it’s 30 years behind the times.

    This is true for both the technology that runs the various systems in publishing, as well as for the “machinery” of getting a book published (from the way a publisher determines who it’s going to publish, to the retailer’s
    way of determining the number of units for a title they are going to put on the shelf, to the way PR firms do PR).

    The problem is, when you have an industry so far behind the times, it’s difficult to work outside of the box. If you do, the industry will push back and reject what it is you’re trying to accomplish. So, no matter how good
    you are–as an author, PR firm, marketing director, or publisher–there’s a ceiling you reach where, in order to break through, you have stop what you’re doing and find a better way to play within the current confines of the publishing game.

    Luckily, you read this blog, and you may even have read Waiting for Your Cat to Bark. If publishers and retailers all read Waiting For Your Cat to Bark, I believe the publishing industry would change much more rapidly than it currently is.

    All we can do is keep pioneering within the publishing industry by pushing the “powers that be” to modernization. It will happen someday, and those of us on the cutting edge will be the ones best able to capitalize on the
    changes that will occur.

    In addition to Future Now, let me recommend two other services on the cutting edge:

    Communications: Wizard Academy’s Magical Worlds workshop

    PR: Newsroom Confidential

    Stay tuned to GrokDotCom. I plan to post often, and I’ll be sure to help you stay on top of the book publishing industry.

    Michael R. Drew

  5. While the giants are sleeping, it’s a great opportunity for the small guy to get mind-share, and market-share. We’re a web 2.0 startup that also does book publishing, taking the opposite strategy of traditional book publishers who just use the web as a marketing tool.

    These two questions that Michael posed seem to be the key: “What other ways are there to develop content?” or “How else can I sell content in today’s market?”

    All our books (travel guides, at http://www.vivatravelguides.com) begin on the web as community-created content then are filled in and edited by professional editors, and generated and sold via POD or offset print and go thru the traditional distribution channel. Our traditional distributor freaks when we make decions like providing the full contents of books online (ad supported), publishing our URL on the front cover, or publishing our books for free using Google Earth as the reader. What they don’t understand is that we actually make several times more $ from web ads than we do by selling books. But, I guess if all of your income comes from selling books, you don’t want to hear that!

  6. An interesting discussion. New York publishers still think they publish books. What they really publish is content — content that can be repurposed in many ways. Every book is really just the beginning of a nexus of rights that can be sold, licensed, or exercised by the owner. Publishers really publish books for only one reason: to establish the value of the subsidiary rights. Most New York publishers have no understanding of that.

    Mike, I love your idea that a publisher actually help the author exercise all the rights inherent in the content of the book by creating audios, seminars, ebooks, etc. Too bad more publishers don’t do that now.

    For a discussion of how you can slice and dice rights, see http://www.bookmarket.com/slicerights.htm.

  7. [...] Lately, we've written about how new media is changing the rules of book publishing and online publishing. But will USA Today create a community worth having you as a member? And if they'll have you, is it worth joining such a club, anyway? (If you think so, you might want to first check out their privacy policy. "How is this information used?" may be of interest.) [...]

  8. Hi…I am a new publisher and author. I am exploring making a publishing a full time venture. Your comments were actually truthfully mind opening. I personally agree with having my book available for others to read for free because I feel that it allows me to get to a wider audience (I will look up google after this and do so). As far as rights are concerned I will investigate further. I know just from the experiences that I have had, the publishing field seems to be way behind the times…aside from having difficulty priniting and marketing to some of the “congolomerates”…I wish more independent publishers(not vanity publishers) would get together and help bring about some serious change by honestly telling their experience and making a community of our own. I know there has to be million dollar independent publishers who could help contribute to a formation of some type of force for us the independents to weild more power. I am interested in any feedback anyone has be it positive or not so positive. Or if anyone is interested in pursuing this further I am in!

  9. People buy books because of the “marketing” efforts PERIOD. They want the information contained within the book so they buy it. That information within the book is communicated via marketing. (The cover is the “last stop” on a long journey.)

    Unfortunately, big publishers are still suffering under the delusion that people buy books because [insert publisher's name] publishes books. Sure, signing with a big publisher may get your title carried in bricck mortar books stores, but authors beware! If you’re counting on the cover art to get your book to move from Barnes and Nobles shelves, you’re in for a disappointing ride.

    Having worked with authors for many years, when it came time to publish my book, I went the self-publishing route. Why? Because I saw that many authors went the “traditional” publishing route because they expected the publisher to underwrite the marketing efforts on behalf of the book. Imagine their surprise when they learned the bitter truth expressed in this post….

  10. Thank You

  11. From a publisher point of view… Some books make sense for full-text search programs, and some don’t. I gladly signed up for Google Book Search for my award-winning sixth book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First (http://www.principledprofit.com). This is a high-concept book about leveraging a genuine commitment to high standards of ethics and service to drive profits. I think exposure to pieces of the book can only help spread the visionary ideas–and sell a few books.

    But for another of my titles, a how-to on having fun cheaply, it would make no sense to participate. People will come in looking for one small chunk of information–and when they find what they’re looking for, they wouldn’t need to buy the book. Similarly, if I were a cookbook publisher, I wouldn’t participate.

    ________________________________________________
    Shel Horowitz, shel (AT) principledprofit.com, 800-683-WORD/413-586-2388

    Marketing & publishing consultant/copywriter, award-winning author of

    * Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts
    People First http://www.principledprofit.com

    * Grassroots Marketing for Authors and Publishers
    http://www.grassrootsmarketingforauthors.com

    * Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World
    http://www.frugalmarketing.com /

    –>Join the Business Ethics Pledge – Ten Years to Change the World,
    One Signature at a Time (please tell your friends)
    http://www.business-ethics-pledge.org
    _________________________________________________

  12. Media has many distribution channels, but I think publishers have to look and keep up the internet technology. Nothing stays the same. Online issues and campaigns are worth to focus on more… Thanks…

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Michael R. Drew, a veteran of the book industry, joined Executive Excellence in 1997 as Publicist and Special Sales Coordinator. In 1999, he moved to Bard Press, where he served as Publicity, Special Sales, and Events Coordinator. When Bard Press was sold, he became Marketing Director for Bard Press/Longstreet Press. As Marketing Director, Mike most recently worked for Entrepreneur Press, which is owned by the publisher of Entrepreneur Magazine. Owner of Promote A Book, Inc., Mike is a book marketing and promotion specialist. Mike can tell you just what all the marvelous benefits are that you will get from becoming the author of a bestselling book; selling a lot of books is just the beginning. He can also tell you about the four ways of reaching any of the bestseller lists. Mike has played a key role in creating 36 national bestsellers, including— The Makers Diet by Jordan Rubin (Silaom, 2004); spent 16 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and hit the USA Today best sellers list Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth by Harv T. Eker (HarperBusiness, 2005); New York Times #1 Business Bestseller, USA Today Money Bestseller, Wall Street Journal #1 Business Bestseller, The New York Times Advice/How To List, USA Today Top 50 Bestseller List, Wall Street Journal Non-fiction List, and BusinessWeek Magazine Bestseller.) The Little Book that Beats the Market by Joel Greenblatt (Wiley, 2005); hit The New York Times Advice/How To List, The New York Times Business List, the USA Today Top 150 Bestseller List, the USA Today Money List, The Wall Street Journal Non-fiction List, and The Wall Street Journal Business List, and BusinessWeek Bestsellers List.) The Millionaire Maker’s Guide to Wealth Cycle Investing by Loral Lengemeier (McGraw-Hill, 2006); hit The New YorkTimes, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists two weeks in a row. The Millionaire Maker by Loral Lengemeier (McGraw-Hill, 2005); hit The New YorkTimes, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestseller lists two weeks in a row. Bag the Elephant: How to Win and Keep Big Customers by Steven M. Kaplan (Bard Press, 2005); hit the New York Times Advice/How to list, the New York Times Business list, the USA Today Top 150 bestseller list, the USA Today Money list, the Wall Street Journal Non-fiction and the Wall Street Journal business list, BusinessWeek Bestsellers list. Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul by Ivan R. Misner and Don Morgan (Bard Press, 2000); hit the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller lists. Mike won the PMA Benjamin Franklin Award for Excellence and Innovation in Marketing with this book, and broke the Guiness World Record for most book signings in more than one city on the same day, 56.

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