Don Linn, former CEO of book distributor Consortium, and Publisher at Taunton Press, writes an excellent blog called Bait ‘n’ Beer. Don recently published a longish essay in two parts called What Men (and Women) Talk About When They Talk About Publishing that I recommend you read and think about as soon as possible. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, though an awful lot I do. He has certainly raised some really important points and started a conversation that we need to have, and set down some principles that anyone in publishing can live by.
In part one of his essay, Don lays out what he considers some of the key foibles going around the industry today - as he says, "a number of sexy topics, many of which, I would argue, are tangential to the success of most publishers." These topics include: devices, enhanced books, one-offs and anecdata (a great term for generalizing from too little information, what I like to call "the focus group of one - me" - very common in publishing), Transmedia is the next big thing and "We need to be like gaming companies", Amazon is the villain, and do lots of experimenting and fail forward fast.
In part two, Don turns to what he calls a "handful of things that are critical for us to be figuring out." These are all important (and impossible to argue against): discovery, workflow and content management, solving the supply chain/distribution conundrum, rights/rights/rights, hitting all the channels, and business models, financial managment, and capital formation (which might well have been first and foremost).
I am sure many of us can come up with additions to these lists. We certainly agree on many things, including the emerging future of "books in browsers." For myself, I’d at least add paying attention to what customers want and really need to his list of "things that are critical for us to be figuring out." And that deeply affects how I think about some of the things Don might consider to be foibles - there are so many really dedicated readers buying large quantities of books today, who are themselves deeply engaged in the devices they now use to read, and many of them are exploring reading as it develops in newly enhanced ways through technology and especially through the social graph.
Where "enhanced" books reflect only shallow thinking about readers and their engagement with digital forms, I agree completely with Don. But writers, publishers and technologists who pay close attention to the reading experience and use technology and social media to creatively extend that experience, or literally create experiences that move people in ways that were not possible in other forms are in fact, doing "things that are critical for us to be figuring out" also.
I am really grateful to Don Linn for writing this essay, and urge you to read both parts, think about what he says, and let me know your own thoughts on this subject. You might also be interested in an interview discussion about the future of publishing that I had with Don about a year ago, posted as one of my Publishing Talks podcast series at WritersCast.