Often, 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?
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.
Today, 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.