Break Down the Barriers

As we know quite well by now, publishing has traditionally had some very high barriers to entry. You had to be the right person, you had to know the right people, and you had to have the luxury of being able to spend your time writing (a room of your own, if you will). And even after all of this, there were still (and still are) gatekeepers deciding if your work was worthy enough to be published.

On one hand, while the barriers are not as high as they once were, they are still a major issue in publishing today, as we discussed in the Emerging Leaders in Publishing Summit. But as we talked about in class, the advent of online business models has also helped to knock many of these barriers down. The space that was once reserved for a select few is now a space where everyone can be an author, and as such it is easier to access publishing platforms. By extension, if you are a consumer, it is also easier to access this abundance of content.

These new models are not inherently detrimental to the publishing business; rather, the publishing industry makes it appear so by remaining stagnant. Both models of publishing have the same goal (to publish books and profit), but they have different ways of meeting that goal. They are in the same business, but have different ways of doing business.

The publishing business model cannot just “go online” and assume that’s enough, but must examine why consumers are moving towards other models. They wouldn’t have to dive that deep to realize it’s because these other models better meet author and consumer needs. (There are clear examples of this same transition in the newspaper industry). Publishers have to realize that their barriers to entry have harmed their business and are driving people to seek out more accessible models. It’s not the location that is the problem, but the service offering.

As much as traditional publishers may want to feel needed and necessary, the truth is that other models that are beginning to push them out. In publishing we are providing a service, not a privilege. There is no reason publishers could have not evolved to better meet the needs of consumers to earlier on, when issues (such as barriers to access) were raised.

In order to compete (and consequently, survive), traditional publishers need to evolve. They need to give platform to marginalized voices. They need to find better ways to cater to customers’ needs. They need to deliver specialized services to authors (not necessarily the whole publishing package). They need to step of off their pedestal and share power with customers and authors by better involving them.

To summarize, publishers need to identify barriers to entry in the industry and then find concrete steps they can take to remove these barriers if they want to stay relevant. Otherwise, people will continue to find ways to go around the barriers that are still in place.

2 Replies to “Break Down the Barriers”

  1. Lovely piece, Sarah. Although I am mostly in agreement with your points, I do have one question: if traditional publishers were to break down the barriers, will there still be some level of credibility, quality and prestige if the entry is now wide open? Is it necessarily a good thing for the customers who will soon face mountain of books they are not able to choose from?

    1. I think you can definitely remove barriers while at the same time maintaining your credibility, quality, and prestige. Breaking down barriers doesn’t necessarily mean publishing everything, but rather publishing a wider array of diverse voices who were previously not represented in publishing. I think this is also a good thing for customers, who will not have a better chance of seeing themselves represented in publishing (which is good for self-esteem, feeling like you matter, etc.).

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