A Letter To The Publishers

Letter in an envelopeDear Mr Publisher.

I think most of us know the pretense under which we are having this conversation. The question is, do you? Increasingly irrelevant, you are – a dinosaur in the age of the Internet – and you just have to change. No, don’t worry, your counterparts in the music industry didn’t want to admit the truth too – for too long they handled the intrusion of the Internet in exactly the way a business shouldn’t: political lobbying and suing the socks off 80 year old grandmothers. Their lawyers must’ve been laughing all the way to the bank, no? And don’t look at me like that, you’ve made your lawyers very happy too – remember the J.K. Rowling case? That’s copyright, you say? Well, big news for you: you’ve got to rethink copyright – suing the socks of everyone who reproduces content isn’t going to do anything for your business. Not at all.

So what is the future? You can’t think beyond the box at the moment, oh no, you’re too busy worrying about the bottom line, complaining about the short (God forbid you use this term) shelf life of new books, pushing for fancier covers and louder headlines to splash over your releases. You want television appearances, author readings, bookstore appearances – the whole package … and then you stop and wonder why you seem to be losing. You’re doing the things that used to work, but they just doesn’t seem to be as effective as they once were! So you point fingers – you say that these are fallen times, that people don’t read as much as they use to, that books are relics of a forgotten age and there’s nothing you can do about that. But really, can you?

Printing On Demand

Well I’m sure you’ve heard of this. Vanity Press, you call it. Hahahaha. Lulu can never compete with us you say. Well shut up. Do you realize the opportunities PoD presents to your dying business? No? Let me give you an example. At Kinko’s they have this service where you upload a document (it can be as big as an entire book), customize the basic look (cover, fonts, etc) and have it printed and delivered in one business-day. To a location of your choice – say you’re doing a presentation at Hilton, you can have Kinko’s print it out in a store closest to your hotel and have it sent there minutes before you arrive. Amazing, no?

Now apply this to your business model. What if readers can choose to have their books printed in store? See the opportunities this presents to you? You no longer have limited shelf space – you can have a virtually limitless number of books available to customers in your computer system – and besides that you don’t have to – ick! – plastic wrap the books on show! Your store can now be customized to encourage browsing, reading, and imagine how much smaller it’ll be! Death to the big bookstore – overhead costs will kill you on one of those! And think beyond the retail front: your backend will be much more streamlined. No more freight costs, no more surplus stock (wasting paper!), no more burning petrol as you cart books from factory to shopping mall – whenever a new book comes out you just download a shell of it from your publisher’s network! Cheaper! More effective! Do you see it yet?

And all these cost savings can be passed on to the consumer: kill the thought, now, that books are luxury items. Dell builds its computers and ships them in a week; customers love them because they’re bloody cheap! Now you can do the same! And, yes, there may be a few kinks along the way – printing a book will take a few hours, particularly if a whole bunch of customers are buying at one time … but think of it as a temporary setback, while advances are made to our printing technology.

Choice

We all know that the 21st century consumer loves choice. M&Ms made a huge killing when they implemented a system for customers to choose the colour of their chocolates. Imagine paying extra for a packet of only pink and green M&Ms! Crazy, no? Now think about what this can do for you: why not let customers choose what short stories they want in an anthology? Why not let them read stuff online and, if they want a dead-tree version of their book, get to choose their own covers? Why not allow your customers to print a message on the cover, the same way iPods can be engraved as gifts?

And why not charge a premium for all those services?

Jump Online

Generation Y is reading more and more stuff on the Internet. I won’t be so stupid as to suggest you port books whole into the online world – that’d be daft because the screen is so different from the page. But pause for awhile and think about how a jump might be made possible – writers can perhaps keep extended stories online, stories that build upon and use characters from the book. We’re all familiar with the novel you just don’t want to end … why not port that element over to the digital world, where stories can go on forever? And the best part about making readers do the jump from offline to online (or vice versa) is that you’re opening up yourself to countless other business opportunities. You can sell advertising, or you can build your brand amongst a new generation of readers, or perhaps you’d like to drive readers to a social networking part of your bookstore site – build a community that’s loyal to you, your books and your authors.

And the best thing about the Internet? Marketing. Yes, you heard me right. Stop sniggering away. Weezer recently did a music video featuring a host of web celebs – Chris Crocker and a dancing banana amongst them. This was a very, very smart move – by tapping into the Internet’s ability to spread word-of-mouth their video got over 3 million views in 5 days, catapulting their band to web fame and, if not fortune, at least many more album sales than before. Do you see what the Internet can do for your business? Stop thinking in terms of old boy networks and jettison the fat (your marketing departments). There’s a whole world of readers you can reach with very little expenditure – all you have to do is to think outside the box a little – see beyond the printed page. The world is waiting for you … just reach out and pluck it.

Conclusion

So, Mr Publisher. Do you see the future? Or do you still want to carry on pretending something will change someday and that everyone will return to books? Stop that! Forget it. The music industry went into cardiac arrest when an outsider came in and redid the rules of the game … I believe this will happen to you too if you’re not careful enough. Still old and fat and slow? So be it. Somebody (web writers, perhaps, or maybe Amazon – remember the Kindle?) is going to make some very big changes in the coming years, whether or not you like it. Hell to old boy networks – we don’t play by your rules and frankly we don’t care. We just know that books can be so much better, and we’re going to do something about it.

So join us, or die.

Yours Truly,

I. M. Dafuture

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Category: Publishing
  • Mack

    But I like reading my books the way they are, thank you very much. I don’t think a Kindle can ever replace the smell of the printed page, or the smoothness of a beautifully designed cover.

  • http://www.meilinmiranda.com/ MeiLin Miranda

    Did you even read the piece, Mack?

  • http://www.nomananisland.wordpress.com Gavin Williams

    I friggin’ loved this article.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    @Mack: I’m sure there will be a bunch of people who will rage against change (part of me does) – but you see, I believe books have no choice but to change, if they are to survive the Internet age.

    @Gavin: hehehehe. Glad you do.

  • Daniel

    Awesome article. Here I am fining and reading it months later. There are many interesting ideas. I agree with it but not to the same extreme. The ideas center around flexibility, conveniences, and accommodations. These are needed. But we must not forget about human nature. Not the resistance to change but the possession that which we hold dear. The industrial revolution took away the need for the sun to rise. That made the sunrise that much more beautiful to us.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Thanks, Daniel. I believe that change doesn’t care about consequences. But I do not believe that the publishing industry should die out of a resistance to change, nor do I believe the beauty of the bookstore being reason enough for it to resist change.

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