The Gatekeepers’ Conundrum

LeHatOften, we debate about the changing publishing industry. But, have we stopped to think about the possible scenarios that could occur with regards to the strong, silent gatekeeper of the world of books?

It is hard to pinpoint the exact nature of the commissioning editor role within the publishing industry, owning to the distinctiveness of the trade, academic, educational, and journal spheres. However, as the name suggests, the underlying function of the commissioning editor is to unearth potential authors and content that will deliver the best value possible, keeping in mind the nature of the frontlist and publishing company.

So, will the role of the CE change in accordance to the Internet and its digitally fostered environment? Common logic dictates, yes, evolution is bound to happen and change is inevitable. Also, history lends its voice as well. The question is how? Relevant skills to manipulate the cyber world are a necessity, rather than a requirement. Will the CEs start holding degrees that demonstrate expertise in information technology? Will XML knowledge become a prerequisite for an already formidable post?
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There is already evidence of the changes taking place. Most of the major companies have embraced XML in its entirety, keeping in mind the benefits and its flexibility. This has given rise to a new type of editor – the technical editor, who deals with the content and the markup language, such as XML and HTML. Skillset, in particular, has identified skills such as product and brand development skills, multimedia production skills, understanding web analytics and the ability to price and sell in the digital environment as extremely relevant skills.

Commissioning editors have contributed to the enduring mural that depicts editors as gatekeepers and guardians of content. Yet, today, their role as gatekeepers is threatened from different sides. Self-publishing, the new darling of the industry, bypasses a lot of factors to get published and with major companies like Pearson and Simon & Schuster acquiring self publishing companies, there is something of a cloud brewing. Agents are slowly becoming more involved in the screening process, and as the growing perception is that CEs’ are too time constrained to fully invest the kind of attention required for a book and the author, it is likely that the agents may have a bigger slice of the entire pie. Finally, with market knowledge becoming more important, it is not implausible that sales/marketers may usurp some of the CE’s functions.

Assassin's Creed BrotherhoodCD assassinscreedbookToday, the CEs are searching for books that can stand its ground against game companies and other entertainment ventures. Ultimately, due to the crowded entertainment arena, the CE’s role may slowly deviate away from books and focus on acquiring content that can be produced in a plethora of formats. Yet, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a good story will always sell irrespective of the format it appears in. Plus, talent will constantly need to be unearthed.

Image Credits: Data Entry, Amazon

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The Publishing Landscape in 5 Years Time (Part II)

LeHatLike the title says. If you haven’t read the first part, you can do so here. Okay, so down to brass tacks.

AppsMobileI actually think that the digital transition is already coming to an end. The facts aren’t disagreeable, for instance, the number of smartphone users in 2012 surpassed the one billion mark, the size of the tablet market being predicted to increase to 357 million users worldwide by 2016 and a new estimate forecasting that Android apps could be the first to hit the vaunted 1 million mark in June 2013. All this points to a different kind of environment that we now live in – a digitally oriented one at that.

Will eBooks totally shut down the printed word? The short term answer is no. The long term answer is yes, but it will take a long time. Until society gains access to a cheap, flexible and multidimensional tablet and it becomes the norm to do run of the mill activities with tablets, the printed word will always find a place in people’s minds. But what is also happening is that gradual, yet imperceptible phasing out of printed books is occurring, slowly, but surely.

PricingAbout pricing and eBooks, well, what has happened has happened, although parts of it have resembled a self-inflicted Shakespearean tragedy. However, the Big Six (soon 5) have more or less embraced the agency pricing model – where the publishers set the price and the retailers get a cut from it. The wholesaler model, which was the norm earlier, consisted of the publishers selling the books to the retailer at a fixed price, and the retailer set the final consumer price. Still, the irony’s not lost.

piracyPiracy. Ah, a controversial topic indeed. The easiest way to describe the potential impact that piracy has on eBooks is that a publisher can run a huge loss through a simple P2P share or a torrent started by a single person. However, a product can be only truly pirated if it is downloaded illegally – just because it is there – does not mean an automatic loss on the ledger. And as Mark Bide often reiterated in his truly inspirational lectures, obscurity is a greater threat than piracy. If you can’t get noticed, you are a complete zero. A study conducted by Brian O’Leary also  found proof that for a publisher – O’Reilly and Thomas Nelson, sales were spurred by pirated books. Yet, another study by Attributor painted a gloomy picture – that ebook piracy is on the rise. But this is somewhat co-relative – after all if there are so many tablet and smartphone sales, it’s also reasonable to expect a bump in the overall piracy levels.

Translations and formerly overlooked nations (factors were weak markets, Steig-Larrson-Millennium-Seriesunfavorable laws and lack of freedom) are becoming more important on publishers agendas. Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series, which was originally in Swedish, saw a wave of Scandinavian novels and penetrations. Today, the esteemed London Book Fair of 2013 has Turkey as its main target of focus.

Lastly, there was a major merge of publishers – with Random House and Penguin joining forces. But, not to be outdone, Amazon pulled off a really savvy business deal, which resulted in a Twitter outburst, with its acquisition of Goodreads. If a Big Six member had acquired Goodreads, instant advantage, but unfortunately the episode again demonstrates the failings of publishers and their tendency to treat consumers like one night stands. Still, there’s always hope.

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Well, that’s about it. The first series of The Publishing Hat. Thanks for reading!

Image Credits: GFK TechTalk, SWLearning, i.i.com and Mixtus Media

The Publishing Landscape in 5 Years Time (Part I)

testBefore I begin, this post is going to be a little long. Apologies in advance! This is the first part of a double series on one of my experiences as a MA Publishing Student at UCL.

In our first publishing class, we were a bunch of bright-eyed folk with varying degrees of experience and knowledge of the publishing industry – but united by a common love for books. Our professor asked us to write an single page about how we saw the publishing landscape in 5 years time. Below is my entry.

Publishing is caught in midst of a necessary transition, whilst the world journeys towards a digital medium – a blend of web, mobile, information, accessibility and communication. With change – different models spring up; old agreements and structures are broken or re-adapted to cater to the ever-changing world.

PrintingPress(Caxton)The publishing scenario is going to likely be set in a new digital model, or at the very least, in the final fringes of the current transit period. It could become more of a cross-media industry than ever. However, publishing is directly based on four major pillars – editing, copyright, sales/marketing and production/quality. The medium may have changed, but one should never assume a demise of the industry or the reader’s love for books.Editing It’s premature and unlikely to happen.

E-books will definitely gain a larger share in the publishing pie. It will replace the printed media as the medium of choice. That does not mean that the printed word will disappear completely. The market and production of printed books will gradually decrease, but there will be always a niche and a demand for printed books – especially in academic and higher education circles and scientific books.

It would be hopeful to expect that the e-books can also gain a higher perceived value, especially with regards to the consumers – but that is also unlikely, with the current pricing trends, the furore over the rights, copyrights and general confusion, such as most viable e-reader, DRM, etc.

Pricing is a major problem currently, and one that I suspect will linger for a long period of time. With the entrant of Amazon as a major player, and the fact that the publishers are still unable to find a set model for pricing – usually falling back to their own individual model of pricing – this only serves to further the aura of uncertainty and low value, which surround e-books.

CopyrightLogoAnother question that currently plagues the publishing world is about the e-book copyright and rights. Who owns the rights to the e-book and in what context? And, at the end of the day – is the book firmly in the hands of the reader? What about the threat of piracy and the fact that digital media can be easily pirated or compromised? Will the Digital Economy Act and Hadopi set a precedent for the rest of the world to follow in order to combat piracy and strengthen the copyright facilities?

I think that we may very well witness a downward spiral in piracy in the more developed and technologically conscious nations – but for the emerging countries, where economies and technology is still evolving, piracy is going to be more rampant there. One way to combat this is to create localized imprints/stores and sell books at the local prices and currency. Many countries are price conscious now, so the publishers will have to tread carefully, if they wish to carve a niche in those respective nations.

The publishing landscape will still be dominated by increased polarization. We may very well see two major companies as the retailers and publishers, instead of the current Big Six at the moment.

An amazing RHPenguinlot has happened in the span of 6-7 months. There have been changes and some of my opinions are already concrete, others actually happened and some are likely to happen in the future. For the analysis and rundown, stay tuned for Part Two!

Image credits: BBC, JerryBrownPR, Wikipedia and The Telegraph