Guest Column: The New Give-to-Get Publishing Economy: Edith D. Wilson, R.I.P.
In the blogosphere, some opine about how hidebound and irrelevant publishers now are, how slow to change and resistant to risks. It makes good copy sometimes—I know I always bite on the most critical headlines first! Rare are the critics, however, who have concrete, insightful, specific suggestions of how to evolve publishing without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Black-and-white thinking and talk of violent revolution distract many from the natural evolution that is both occurring and will likely be more sustaining for the “book” economy in the long run.
I believe the divergent views stem, most significantly, from a dearth of authentic copy on what publishers get right. Publishing houses are chock-full of interesting, educated, highly creative, talented and usually very funny people who know a vast amount about books, reading and packaging, and have wildly interesting opinions and judgments. But, in the online theater, these people are largely anonymous office workers to the opinion leaders who host the daily discussion of what publishing is doing wrong. Publishers have little tradition of revealing what is inside their black box that isn’t focused on meeting specific author and title marketing goals. They have little practice of turning the spotlight toward their contributions in ways that are authentic in today’s marketplace—and that simultaneously support their authors and a community of readers. This is rooted in old conceptions of publicity as a department, as a discrete function with one-way, outbound messaging. Yet today, authentic, personalized, continuous engagement is the way the social economy works. Publishers need to be personally and organizationally engaged with the tools they are asking their authors to use. There are no wallflowers at this digital dance.
Publishers: Start Talking
Thus, the devaluing of publishing roles is, today, partially self-inflicted. Publishers need to make it a priority to make their contributions known in ways that encourage discussion of great authors and their work. If publishers want to participate in the digital value chain—where consumers pay enough for curated content to support authors in meaningful ways—the army of people that is the publishing industry needs to engage with actual consumers around the creation and curation of high-value work.