What Craft Beer & Books Have in Common
I love beer. Actually, I take that back. I love great beer. I am not alone.
In the past decade, the number of breweries in the U.S. has doubled, driven by the craft brewing movement and the desire to enjoy something unique. We could say this is simply an excuse to drink more great beer, which may be partially true, but at the heart of this is the desire of Americans to feel connected to something real, something tangible, something made with care, something local. We want to be connected to people with passion. Craft beer offers this opportunity, and the trend can be seen repeated in so many other markets, from wines to farm-to-table restaurants to hand-crafted furniture. In all of its manifestations, this movement is a small scale but powerful rebuttal of the mass-produced, mass-sold, made-somewhere-else culture that pervades America.
I love great books, too. I love great authors and beautifully printed illustrated works. But publishers can do more to connect directly with their readers the way craft brewers have with their consumers. We should remind readers-and ourselves for that matter-that craft is an important and soulful part of book publishing.
A reader immersed in a beautifully illustrated book or a rich story, will intrinsically understand that they are connected to a socially conscious author and publisher, and they are therefore contributing to a better society and richer culture by supporting that art. Like that first sip of a great craft beer or taking in the beauty of a piece of handcrafted furniture, the reader will understand that great hands have passed over that book from authors to editors to designers and beyond. Publishers have the perfect opportunity to build bridges between their authors and the people that are passionate about their ideas.
Publishers and authors can set the conversation and make the connections, and not concede that to a faceless internet giant or recommendation engine. Speaking and selling direct to readers is not only about consumer analytics or scale, but about craft and passion, about the power of reading and the power of a book to deliver important ideas and stories. Oftentimes, the greatest reward a publisher derives comes not from a major customer, but from interactions with those that share the same ethos.
There are several leaders in publishing that have recognized this. At Avalon Travel, Bill Newlin has helped Rick Steves connect with his mobile fans by delivering high-quality ebooks for his popular Rick Steves' Europe guidebooks. This is a great example of having a conversation and selling directly to readers. At New Harbinger Publications, they have made it easy for readers to buy both print and DRM-free ebooks on their site, where they set the tone of the conversation.
Overall, however, publishing companies in large numbers have not adopted the strategy of appealing directly to the readers that share a passion for their craft. I think that will change.
Fran Toolan, the founder of Firebrand, has observed over the past year that publishing has entered a relative period of calm following massive disruption. He is quick to point out, however, that we can expect new waves of disruption to roll into our business in the coming years, and I expect these new forces will open up more opportunities for publishers to connect directly with readers. The balance of power will inevitably shift.
For some categories, ebooks are an ideal way to sell direct to readers and open a channel for conversation. I expect that several smaller disruptions will combine to allow this to happen. I expect new forms of DRM to take hold that do not restrict users from moving the content they have purchased between devices or include barriers to reading, such as separate authentications. I expect mobile devices from phones to phablets to tablets, to continue to gain market share over proprietary platforms that restrict content to a single retailer. Advances and adoption of ebook formats like EPUB 3 will open new opportunities for publishers and authors.
Print-on-demand creates new opportunities for us to deliver printed books as well, especially as machines that can produce one-at-a-time, beautiful books evolve.
I love great beer, and great books, and great authors. I am passionate about the topics I read, I know the publishers that publish for me, and I know the authors that share their wisdom. I want to listen to their authentic voices, connect with them, support them, buy from them, and read with them. I am not alone.
Doug Lessing is president at Firebrand Technologies, a provider of publishing systems and technologies.
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