Discoverability is a fear that has long plagued publishers. When publishers rejected Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they feared for its discoverability. At a time when the very idea was considered akin to paganism, they couldn’t imagine any supporters for the book. And yet it went on to be a bestseller! With numerous reprints and movie editions, the book symbolizes the spirit and emotions that lie at the heart of Christmas to this day!
Before the emergence of the World Wide Web, mass communication was a risky venture—be it book publishing or movie making. With the web connecting the entire world under one roof, accessibility increased. As Rajiv Jain, chief technology officer of photo-marketing site Corbis, says in the article: “Discoverability has always been an issue, but there’s now infinite shelf space.”
Social media platforms emerged to compartmentalize the shelf space quite strategically. A publisher can now tweet, blog, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube (book trailers), Pinterest, and Tumblr its books! Add to the pile, discoverability giants such as Goodreads and publishers should be able to sleep easy. Yet, what was yesterday the publisher’s venture has today been reduced to a reader’s fancy.
A tweet from the publisher about the latest shades of grey would hardly make a difference if 5,475 readers did not choose to retweet it. A Youtube trailer about The One by Kiera Cass—the latest YA epic romance—would not make its presence felt beyond its digital space if 7,804 fans were not to “like”, “share”, and “comment” on the trailer! 899 “repins” of “series for fans of The Hunger Games” on Pinterest helped me discover the next dystopian trilogy I wanted to read. Pinterest even uses SEO discoverability such as linking to the mother of all search giants, Google! Imagine your book being a part of “The 10 trendiest books to read this summer”—blogged by a reader who fancied it. Or simply log onto Goodreads and see readers, authors, friends, and foes working their magic alike. The 5th Wave, the first in a post-apocalyptic dystopian trilogy written by Rick Yancey and now a major motion picture, has 160,754 ratings! Who published it again?
The article cites that “content discoverability is vital to keeping publishers relevant”, but also acknowledges how relevant it is for readers to know what their friends are reading or quote direct content from books they have read. A publisher must be on constant lookout for new ways to keep readers engaged because this is no more about the book of the season, or about the editor’s picks. This is a slowly unwinding movie about a publisher relinquishing control. It is more about what a reader thinks is worth reading and if his or her opinion catches the fancy of the world, then Fifty Shades of Grey is bound to happen.
Publishing has always been about control. The question today is who controls whom?