Evolution to a Network

I don’t think that the new internet business models that remove barriers to publishing and content are necessarily detrimental to the publishing business. The only way internet business models would be detrimental would be if publishers refused to evolve and grow with the times and technology, and refused to reevaluate their own positions in the market.

I don’t know what the exact solution is in order for publishers to stay in the game, but perhaps it is their role in the publishing process that needs to change. Publishers, more often than not, have an extensive network of editors, designers, publicists, etc, that authors could tap into to give their own book the edge over the plethora of books that are being independently produced and designed, for instance by the author themselves. Rather than being gatekeepers, publishers could become a network collective, guiding and assisting people who feel they need the extra assistance.

If I were an average Joe (forgetting all my mPub knowledge), I would feel daunted if I wrote a book and tried to publish myself. As Kitterage stated in their article, “There is a massive oversupply of books, and marketing them to increasingly distracted consumers is an incredibly steep hill to climb.” This is obviously not to say that it can’t be done on one’s own — there are thousands of books on the contrary. But if I want to fight through the crowd to make my way to the front row, I would feel foolish if I didn’t ask for some help along the way. I may still want to be a self-publisher, but I would want to find a someone in a network of marketers that know more than I do and can either guide me in the steps to make myself, or make them for me. Perhaps that’s through sponsorship, but without the help of a publishing house (in the sense of them evolving into a network to assist the public) my book wouldn’t necessarily reach as far as it could.

In order to survive (and have any chance of thriving) publishers will need to reduce their costs so that they can compete with the individuals who are going elsewhere. Perhaps by having pick-and-choose professional service packages, they may be able to better cater to each individual author’s needs, and allow themselves time to reestablish their footing in the publishing game.


Publishing Online: Disruptive but in a Good Way

Online business models (or at least an online portion of a business model) are fast becoming an almost-requirement for most businesses in a majority of industries. Publishing, as it happens, is one of the most naturally-attuned industries to acclimatize to the digital revolution—the act of it, but unfortunately not the business models surrounding it. The act of publishing has become so accessible and easy, that creating a business out of it can seem incredibly daunting and nigh impossible. Because if “anyone” can do it, where is your monopoly, and how do you make money off of it?

Absolutely the advent of the internet has greatly disrupted publishing as it once was, but I do not think in a detrimental way. It has reinvented how a vast majority of publishing—the making public of things—is done, has changed a lot about how distribution and publicity is approached, and even affected the kind of content consumed. But I think, in time as society comes to terms with new technologies, it will only prove to be beneficial, so long as we do not approach the measure of such as directly related to vast monetary gain and world-dominance in an infinitely, kaleidoscopically niche industry.

The accessibility of digital publishing has created many platforms of new ways for sharing vast amounts of content, as immediately or delayed as the content publisher desires. But this new flex in content distribution comes at quite a literal cost: revenue.

In the short term it may seem like a detriment, but in the long term, I think new business styles that better reflect our online ecosystem will be found/developed (like they already are). And publishers should be fully embracing this new modality in order to have an open mind in thinking how to make it work, so that new ways of generating that necessary revenue can be found.

Online Publishing and the Quest for Diverse Books

Internet business models are in general trending towards removing the space between the creator and the consumer. The complex filtration systems of traditional business models are disappearing and there is a profound increase in creators only going through a single intermediary, such as an online hosting platform, to reach their intended audience. This calls in to question the value of industries such as the publishing industry that function to filter and ideally refine content from authors before it eventually makes its way to the reader. This new business model is potentially detrimental because it will require authors to have capital in order to publish their books. I believe that the publishing industry must put an emphasis on publishing diverse and innovative books in order to continue to stay relevant within this changing market.

Harrison Kitteridge envisions in their article “Creating the Uber of Publishing” a future where books will be almost entirely self published eBooks and made available through a large platform. Kitteridge goes on to explain that these self published authors will hire freelance editors, designers, and other professionals to oversee tasks that were traditionally done within publishing houses. This model currently exists within the publishing industry and is sometimes referred to as “custom publishing” or “vanity publishing”. The primary difference between traditional publishing and this new model is that the author would retain the copyright and any money from sales would go exclusively to them (instead of earning royalties). This new model would also shift the risk of publishing books from the publishers (who are now all hypothetically working freelance) onto the author. This business model is problematic because the authors that can afford to take on this risk as well as pay freelance professionals are people with expendable income. Traditional publishing allows for writers from all backgrounds to be potentially published, but this new model means that only the wealthy can afford to print their books. The publishing industry is already notorious for its lack of diversity and this new business model would potentially exacerbate that.

When you consider the types of books that are produced by custom publishers it is evident that you need to have capital in order to have your book be produced. Custom publishers take on a great deal of work from corporate clients wanting to publish a book about their company to use as a marketing tool. Similarly during my time working at McNally there was a local self published author who was producing a series of picture books but had to stop because she could no longer afford the expenses. This is very similar to what Anil Dash discusses in his article “Tech and the Fake Market tactic” and how the internet went from being a free space that anyone could join on equal playing ground to becoming a place where only people with a considerable amount of capital can afford to have their content standout within the crowded market space. While this is not a perfect parallel it is worth considering how the internet is not a meritocracy and that money controls a lot of what happens in online spaces.

Kitteridge’s predicted future for the production of books would see the end of publishers being “gate keepers” and instead the ability for the authors to pay will become the new barrier to access. If the overall goal is for high quality books that reflect the diversity of readers then neither of these models are perfect however I am more inclined to believe that publishing companies that exist not just to make money but because of passion projects are far more likely to produce these books than individual authors trying to standout in a crowded marketplace where you have to pay to play at the highest level.

Patreon Doesn’t Need to be Life or Death to Contribute to Life

Asking the question “Are these business models inherently detrimental to the publishing business?” is a leading question layered with bias. We—MPub students—are here because we want to be publishers or work in the publishing industry in some way, so of course we’re biased to want things to be easier for publishers. We want higher prices so we can better meet our bottom line, but we also want more readers so we can sell more books. Unfortunately, the two do not often come hand-in-hand. We have to find that delicate balance between price (and other forms of accessibility, such as format and availability) and number of sales.

I’ve focused most of my reading responses this semester on the publisher’s perspective—again, because I’m here to become a publisher. However, this week I would like to focus on the individual creator’s perspective (which, honestly, is kind of the same thing from the point of view of my future business). Specifically, I want to talk about the subscription model and the use of platforms such as Patreon.

In December, Brent Knepper wrote an article called “No One Makes a Living on Patreon,” and while his facts may be right and his argument in the right place, I disagree with his fundamental point that people should be able to make a living full-time from Patreon or other platforms like Patreon. The tone of his article appears to say that if you can’t make a full-time living wage on Patreon, what’s the point? It seems to say that Patreon is falsely advertising how creators use its platform to make money from their art (whatever form that art might take). He states that only 2% of creators on Patreon are making over minimum wage on a calculation of full-time hours, which is likely true, but this is not the only number that should be taken into account.

He brings up an example of a creator who works in retail part-time and spends about 20-25 hours a week working on her Patreon creations and earns about $200 a month from patrons. That $200 is not enough to live on, and it’s unfortunate that she only makes $8-10 per hour for her art, but there are two points that Knepper seems to be missing in his own example: you have to start from somewhere and this is not her only form of income.

While she may only be making $200 per month right now, Knepper doesn’t tell us how long her Patreon account has been active or how much work she puts into marketing her account. It takes work to build and maintain a subscriber base, so if her account is relatively new she hasn’t had the time to build a larger subscriber base yet and she might get there. (I’d also like to note that while Knepper has a link on this creator’s name in the article, it leads to her Twitter account not her Patreon account.)

Knepper mentions that this creator also works part-time, but he seems to dismiss that as irrelevant to the topic at hand. It’s not irrelevant. Most creators on Patreon are not working on their Patreon content full-time. They have other projects, jobs, and sources of income. They might sell their prints at conventions or work a part-time (or full-time) job in something unrelated to their art. Regardless of what their other source of income is, it is income, and their Patreon account is meant to supplement that income and provide a venue to share and promote their art. Most creators have their lowest subscriber levels at $1-5, which is definitely affordable for anybody who wishes to subscribe, and they (generally) get access to most of the work the creator posts even at that low level. This subscriber model shows that making money is not the main goal for the creator, but it’s nice to “tip the artist”—a phrase that many creators use for their lowest subscriber level.

We don’t know if this artist has other sources of income based on her art. She could be selling her comics at conventions or on another platform like Etsy. Of course, I wish that every creator on Patreon was making more than $200 per month, but the creator will only get so much for what they put into it and we can’t blame Patreon as a platform for creators not making a full-time living wage.

May The Force Be With You, Mr. Publisher

I grew up in a small town in Northern India, where bookstores were a rare sight. Academic reading was very much encouraged, but the concept of reading for leisure was foreign to majority of folks. I come from a family of non-readers. Since I turned out to be the book-sheep of the family, I had to find my own ways to secure reading material. Beg & borrow aside, I used to walk couple of kilometers, twice a week, to visit the only library in our locality. Calling it library would be stretching it. It was just a hole in the wall, lined with a couple of hundred books. But to my book starved eyes, the place was salvation.

A couple of decades later the picture is quite different. Today, I have access to almost every book that gets published worldwide. I can read anything, anytime, in any format, without moving an inch.

With internet business models taking more and more concrete shape, publishing industry, as we know it, is undergoing a sea of change. Access to publishing platforms and access to content are two extreme ends of the traditional publisher’s role – to decide who gets published and how their books get distributed. Publishers have, in a way, acted as a Chinese wall between the reader and the author. That wall is crumbling as we speak.

Some believe that the role of publisher as the middleman is becoming increasingly redundant as self-publishing gains ground. With traditional distribution stuck in a rut, the readers are getting click-happy. The authors are discontent because traditional publishing methods don’t payout for majority of them. The readers are loyal to the author alone, so they don’t really care how the books are reaching them. So where does that leave the publishers?

As the part of this industry, we understand the value a publisher adds to the process of making a book. But an average reader is often unaware of the role the publisher plays in the making of the book. Most readers don’t spare much thought to the process of building a book. And as convenient as internet publishing models are, abundance isn’t always a good thing. We’re moving away from a streamlined dissemination of content to indiscriminate publishing, creating less value and more noise in the process. Yes, eBooks are cheaper and easier to find, but it also means chaos as every book fends for itself on an algorithm driven website. Most books run a hundred meters sprint and die. Suddenly, the derelict library from my childhood is looking so much better.

To survive this era of digital transformation, the publishers need to pivot and regroup. They need to rethink their ‘behind-the-scenes’ approach and start marketing, not just the books, but themselves as well. Readers need to understand the value publishers add to their favorite books. That is the only way to preserve the sanctity of this profession. Publishers need to bring the fight where their strengths are—print books. Readers are still loyal to the printed book, and that’s something publishers have an upper hand at. The digital model of publishing completely sidelines the ‘form’ of the book. No eBook or print-on-demand copy can compete with a lovingly reproduced book through the hands of an experienced publisher. The publishers need to re-calibrate their strategy to give the readers a reason to buy more books or return to the print format. The digital distribution battle belongs to Amazon, because they got there first. But publishing business as a whole is teetering on precipice of big change. The publishers need to up their game, because this can go either way.

Anumeha Gokhale


“Innovation-first” should be the publisher’s business model

In a post titled Why There’s No Innovation In The Publishing Industry, Nate Hoffelder, founder of digital publishing news blog, The Digital Reader, speaks about “the general level of arch-conservatism that infests book publishing.” The industry, says Hoffelder, “never met a new idea that it didn’t try to smother at birth.” Ouch! While that may be a tad too harsh, that the book publishing industry needs to do some soul-searching and innovate is an accepted fact. ‘Adapt or die’ has been the mantra whenever new ideas have threatened the old guard, and it’s this response that the industry needs to have when faced with the threat from consumer-centric apps like Wattpad and Tablo.

Like magazine publishing, which has increasingly transitioned to a digital-first or social-first business model to stay afloat, book publishers need to not just go digital, but also find innovative ways in which to do so. Print book publishers did go digital, in that they started offering ebooks, but there has been very little innovation beyond that. In an interview just last month, the CEO of Hachette, Arnaud Nourry said, “The ebook is a stupid product. It is exactly the same as print, except it’s electronic. There is no creativity, no enhancement, no real digital experience. We, as publishers, have not done a great job going digital. We’ve tried. We’ve tried enhanced or enriched ebooks – didn’t work. We’ve tried apps, websites with our content – we have one or two successes among a hundred failures. I’m talking about the entire industry. We’ve not done very well.” The rise and popularity of apps like Wattpad, Tablo, Draft2Digital, Bookfunnel, etc. can be attributed to such circumstances: the inability of the print book publishing to innovate and the limitations of the ebook format. It would be easy to vilify “consumer-facing” apps as sounding the death knell for traditional publishing, but if one thinks about it, these apps were born out of a deficit the old industry could not fulfill. I see them as an evolution of the print book industry, rather than a detriment. Indeed, even these newfangled applications are not invincible. One need only read Harrison Kitteridge’s lengthy spiel to know about that. While he concedes that “author-services is a burgeoning and incredibly lucrative consequence of the self-publishing movement,” he also maintains that “no one has really managed to scale the model.” According to him, it’s when someone finds a way to marry and scale Wattpad and Kindle Direct Publishing that the traditional book publishing industry will truly be on shaky ground.

Instead of waiting for the inevitable, which may or may not (but likely will) happen, book publishers need to pursue collaborative innovation with the people that are into the “consumer-facing” and author-services digital businesses. These companies – by virtue of being outside the print publishing setup – can think out of the box and explore ways of sustaining the business. Another way the book industry can do this, many think, is by “embracing a startup mindset”. This would involve having a dedicated team that, instead of being overwhelmed by the daily demands of book production, does nothing but research and development, an aspect many traditional book publishers don’t invest in, but which can actually find ways to take the industry into newer, fresher directions. Bestselling author James Patterson tinkered with the novel by coming up with “bookshots”: 150-paged shorter novels. Similarly, cookbooks have been reinvented by having electronic versions which feature grocery lists, timers and videos. Of course, social media is a behemoth publishers can’t afford to ignore. Until and unless they generate content that is interactive and participatory, publishers are going to have a tough time riding the crest of digital publishing. To that end, may be publishers ought to think about accepting and integrating not just the Ubers of publishing but also potentially develop a Facebook for publishing too.