The only two constants in the publishing value chain are authors and readers. Authors create, readers consume. Everyone else in the middle serves merely to make that exchange as efficient, scaled, and pleasurable as it can be.
Whether you agree or not is likely to turn how the word merely strikes you. I expect it would cause many literary agents, editors, publishers, marketers, and publicists to scoff. The arbiters and gatekeepers of what counts as worthy of publication naturally feel that their role is crucial. It is. I’d say the function they provide is more essential to the vitality of the author-reader relationship than ever before, but it’s migrating away from the domain of traditional publishers in myriad different directions and taken up by:
And the driver of all this? It’s what a friend once called the “relentless tsunami of shit”–the profound increase in available digital and print content. Now, more quality content is being created than ever before, but it’s unfiltered, un-curated, and very hard to find by anyone or anything. Even Google is struggling to keep up, to provide relevant search results to support their advertising.
The “two constants” strikes me as such an important and clear-eyed way of framing the fundamental dynamic facing the book business. Publishers are going to have to decide who they are going to serve: authors (who want to be read, and preferably get paid for it) or readers (who more than ever need tools to discover content that will be worth reading, and even paying for).
Do publishers really have to choose? Why not serve both authors and readers? Well, I could be wrong, but with so many players stepping in between authors and readers–and coming from every possible direction–now is time to pick whom you will serve. And, too, authors and readers represent markets of increasingly different dependencies and opportunity costs. To try to serve both authors and readers–and do both well–publishers will require pockets as deep as Amazon’s, and a corporate culture as agile and energized as Google’s, and a sense of user-experience as subtle as Apple’s.
It seems to me that now is the time for publishers–and anyone else working in “our industry”–to apply resources with focus and do what they do best.