All books go through a stage of being a work-in-progress. It could be rightly argued that they remain works in progress until the final edited version rolls off the printer’s assembly line. In many cases, thousands of penned manuscripts every year never escape the perpetual status of a work-in-progress. You could apply the same analogy to the state of the publishing industry at the moment. Challenged by the developments in the digital print industry and growth of online retailers and social communities, the publishing landscape in the past ten years has changed in a way we could never have imagined. Likewise the business models employed for decades no longer provide publishers with the tools to navigate the unexplored landscape they find themselves in today, and this landscape is also a constantly changing one. The traditional beliefs of the publishing industry that the book is a sole and sacred paper product for mass readership can no longer be the bedrock of publishers.
The humble book has come a long way. Audio books may have been a curious novelty recording sound on magnetic cassettes thirty years ago, but digitalisation has brought us portability and a whole new dimension we can exist in for hours every day. The internet not only hosts the commercial world but a sizeable portion of our social lives. One of the challenges for publishers is to fully embrace the change from running a business once focussed solely on the book as a paper product to a new business model capable of integrating both print and digital products.
This is only part of the greater challenge.
Publishers must also learn to better embrace the most important part of publishing and selling books—the reader—and they must start to dispense with models of publishing which focus much of their marketing budgets on a fraction of their authors. In the new models of publishing for the future, the guideline will be strategic decisions based on building an identity with the consumer and connecting with physical and online communities. Less will be more. For the first time we will need to see large publishing houses focus on brand development and that may mean carving up some of their list into much smaller imprints with dedicated teams.
In many ways large publishers will find it harder to adapt than smaller independent publishers or publishers starting from scratch. Right now, no-one can say what the perfect or effective model required to take on these challenges is, but one innovative way of finding out is by following closely a publishing project being launched on Publishr. Publishr is a blog for essays and discussion on the future of publishing. The publishing project itself is the brainchild of Brett Sandusky, Digital Marketing Manager with Kaplan Publishing.
Like our books long before they reach the stage of being published, this truly is a work in progress. Sandusky, a respected marketing and publishing strategist, is using Publishr to test and hone a model of digital publishing, which may if successful, prove to be the blueprint for how it should be done. Sandusky plans to publish one e-book through his publishing project. Last week he explained much of his plans for Publishr and his publishing project with Booksquare’s Kassia Krozser.
“Let’s say, for example, a publisher purchases or commissions a piece of content. It is then decided that this content will be divided, purposed and repurposed, chunked into several products, which may or may not include eBook, smartphone app, print book, audiobook. It may have transmedia integration with audio or video components. Each of these, as well as any bundles of these, requires a separate ISBN. Right now, regardless of what the content becomes, we have one way of treating that content, which is a model based on the content-to-print paradigm. The XML business model would allow for all of these separate products, and any iteration thereof, to have an exact model that fits to each particular situation.
At the moment, we have no plans on publishing more than one title. In fact, I don’t know if what we are going to do can be recreated, nor would I necessarily want to be responsible for the infamous sophomoric effort.
As it is conceived, this is an exercise in building the future by moving things forward. Too many still think we can simply adapt our print models for a digital world. And, too few seem to fully embrace the opportunities that a digital-first mindset can allow. Publishng is that opportunity, to go beyond current best practices and to make a difference in this industry. To show that money is not the solution to complex problems, and to explore new business modes that may be impossible in the stricter confines of a big publishing house.”
In fact, Sandusky has now named his team at Publishr and wants the whole project to be entirely transparent. For me, that will bring its advantages and disadvantages. This is an innovative project, albeit, operating outside of the busy publishing cauldron of an established company, and that is worth noting. Large or small publishers could not afford to operate such a lab test in any kind of a glare of transparency and publicity. I note that Sandusky has included Kat Meyer on his team, formerly of Quartet Press. I have a lot of passion and time for innovation in the publishing industry. I believe it is projects like this which will help re-invent what publishing is and how it works without jettisoning the core values it once held—that is, bringing literary works of importance to as wide a readership as possible—without the need for us to suck a thousand lumps of sickly-sweet sugar first.
If this goes pear-shaped—what appeared as a bold and innovative move to begin with for its team—may prove to be a monkey on the backs of the individual team of contributors and they could find that hard to shake off. Sandusky is not aiming low either or treating this publishing project likely. In many ways, he is testing his own conclusions and beliefs as a marketing strategist as much as the faith he has placed in the team he has selected. Again, speaking on Booksquare, he sets his stall out in no uncertain terms.
“Ideally, I would love to find someone with the chops to stand up to the New York Times Bestseller list, for example. It is a high standard, but I feel it’s important to aim for the top and hold out for quality.
Beyond that, it is incredibly important that we work with an author who understands the digital landscape, who is willing to experiment, and who is also eager to promote and dig in to help with marketing and publicity both online and off. I don’t want to jinx it, but I may have had the right project fall into my lap just last night.”
In time, no doubt, Sandusky will reveal who that author is. Whatever happens, this project will prove to be a game-changer. It will either prove that the current thinking in publishing strategies for the future of digital publishing remain very shaky works-in-progress, or it will prove to be a blueprint for the industry and set alight the reputations of all who had a hand in it.
You can follow the publishing project over the coming months and no doubt throughout this year by regularly visiting the Publishr site.