The future of publishing: marketing?

The news this week that ebooks are currently ranking as the top format in all trade categories (http://bit.ly/ezode6) is giving fresh life to a recurring question: How will the big publishing houses survive the digital revolution? Obviously it’s a critical question coming at a critical time. With much of their money still being invested in printing and distribution, costs that ebooks are making increasingly irrelevant, publishers are really giving off that dinosaur smell.

Just floating an idea here, but I think there’s a strategy for getting them through the next few decades. Please let me know what you think. Despite all the upheaval in the industry, the big publishers still have one advantage: They’re well-known brand names trusted by readers to put out (relatively) good books. I’m thinking that’s the key to their futures. They’ll survive not through great distribution, but through great branding and marketing.

These days, thanks to digital self-publishing, anyone can put a book out in  the world. But selling and marketing the damn thing? That’s hard. Between Kindles and iPads and Nooks and mobile, between Amazon and Sony and Kobo and Diesel and hundreds of other franchises and devices, negotiating the morass of digital networks takes constantly changing expertise.  That’s where the publishers of the future come in. They’ll not only find and produce good books like they do today, they’ll know how to sell books in the universe of ever-shifting digital strings. Their marketers will be book-loving geeks who’ll stay aware of new sites, blogs and outlets, they’ll know which ones are delivering results and which ones are fading, they’ll start a web of blogs themselves.

If publishers can switch to ebooks and put their money and creative energy into marketing, they’ll have real chance at succeeding. Writers need a change like this. Readers need a change like this. Everyone needs a change like this. So my thesis, simply put, is this: The best publishers of the future will be the best marketers.

What are your thoughts?

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About Richard Sanders

I worked as an Executive Editor at Entertainment Weekly for 11 years and (in two separate stints) at People magazine and people.com for 12 years. I often speak to young journalists and try to use myself as an example for inspiration—a guy who spent time in jail, rehab and a psych ward and somehow went on to become a successful editor at Time Inc. and managed to stay sane and alive. I’ve tried to reflect those experiences in my books. View all posts by Richard Sanders

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