Tuesday 12 February 2008

A Brave New World for Publishers (the Key Word is Brave)

Comes the news this week that two publishers have launched distribution initiatives that feature competing visions of the future.

Harper Collins is releasing complete texts online from such web-savvy authors as Neil Gaiman and Paul Coelho.

Random House
on the other hand is selling chunks of business books for small fees.

This almost 20 years after the creation of the world wide web. Is it just me or does this sound a bit slow, considering how the web has so far revolutionised music distribution and all sorts of human interaction?

Nicholas Clee, on the Guardian Book Blog, notes:
These announcements suggest we have not moved on from the year 2000 - at least a generation ago, in internet terms.
Clee saves us some research by outlining how authors from Stephen King to Seth Godin have been working the web for years way before the publishers perked up to its possibilities.

One author commenting on Clee’s blog post wrote:
The publishing houses are stuck in old modes of doing things, trying to make money (yes, they have to survive). Finally! they are allowing the public to read their books without trekking to the bookstore? But they are doing this after the books have been out and their window of opportunity is closed. And in whose interests?

When the Media Guardian invited media movers and shakers to predict the future, book publishers were conspicuous in their absence.

For the publishing world, the online universe is a Brave New World. Aldous Huxley describes his novel as set in a “negative utopia” – which pretty much probably reflects how publishing regards the web.
Author and marketing guru Godin sees the Harper announcement as a typical traditional book publishing mentality attempting a new initiative: "They took all the [viral marketing] things that work — that make it spread — and they're turning them off." His idea is that marketing is "trying to start conversations, and if that conversation takes place the ideas spread." - 22nd Century Press Blog
I guess the key word in this Brave New World is Brave. The initiatives announced today are at best tentative and at worst fearful.

Sure, the industry is constantly struggling to stay on the right side of the bottom line.

But publishers should do better.

Brave New World image copyright Tony Hamilton, DreamingAloud.com

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