Dispatches from the Publishing Frontier

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a capstone English class at the University of Central Oklahoma. My presentation, titled “Dispatches from the Publishing Frontier,” addressed the new landscape of the publishing industry and opportunities for recent graduates to get their foot in the door.

As I prepared it was eye opening to look back over the last fifteen years and put the students’ generation in a historical context. There is no way to overstate the impact the Internet has had on all business, and especially media. The last ten years have been nothing short of revolutionary for our culture. As we know, revolutions can have good and bad results, and often a mix. In the next three posts, I’d like to delve into three dramatic shifts in the publishing industry in the last decade. Today, we look at distribution.

Part One: The End of The Distribution Monopoly 

The monopoly on book distribution has been all but wiped out. Forty years ago, the one route to getting your book in front of an audience was this: AgentàNY PublisheràDistribution ManageràRetail Book BuyeràCustomer. Today, it is possible to hurdle some of these steps and still reach an audience. Let’s take a look at these one by one:

  1. Agents. The agency route is certainly still an option, but some publishers, like Tate Publishing, have Acquisition Editors who accept and review unsolicited manuscripts not tied to an agent, and this role has lost more than a modicum of its gate keeping authority.

  1. Publisher. Some have attempted to argue that the role of publisher is losing importance as well. I would argue that this is actually the most dynamic and vital cog in the chart above. Nothing can take the place of experienced Editorial eye, elegant Cover Design, subtle and eye-pleasing Layout Design, and Marketing and Publicity, all of which Tate Publishing provides. And now communication technology has freed us up to do business in areas of the nation outside of Manhattan.

  1. Distribution Managers warehouse books for retailers. With modern digital printing technology, we can print books in shorter runs and have them ready for retailers in weeks. Distribution is also dependent on traditional book retailers, which we will address next.

  1. Retail Book Buyer. I could sum this up in one word: Borders. National book chains are struggling. It’s a painful thing to realize, but admit it we must: customers are much more likely to buy from an online site that in a bookstore. We still value our relationships with book buyers and bookstores. Yet there is another avenue we can approach customers, one at which the Tate Publishing Marketing team is both particularly experienced and adept: Events outside the bookstore; also known as Niche Marketing. Tapping into your niche market is the new way of the industry, and Tate Publishing has been pioneering the path for years

Part Two will look at Chris Anderson’s important work defining The Long Tail.


Recently Roached said...

Always an interesting topic of discussion! My capstone course required a twenty page paper on this very subject. I love that the publishing world is always evolving, yet the overall goals seem to remain somewhat constant.

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