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What is the ‘New’ Publisher?

The “new publisher” is a creative intermediary between the author and reader, and not merely a gatekeeper

By Sophie Rochester

So who is “The New Publisher”? The Bookseller’s FutureBook conference offered several perspectives on the question.

In a session chaired by Jonny Geller, literary agent and MD at Curtis Brown several panelists sought to offer answers, including John Mitchinson; ex-book retailer, former TV producer and head of Unbound, the crowd-funding platform for authors; Charlie Redmayne, previously Chief Digital Officer, Harper Collins and now CEO, Pottermore.com; the champion of learning-through-doing, Dominique Raccah, CEO of Sourcebooks; Jason Cooper, digital and new business development for Faber and Faber; and Jonathan Williams, founder of Boxfiction, a start-up looking “to challenge the novel as the main form of fiction.”

Geller kicked off the session by asking John Mitchinson of Unbound what he think went wrong with conglomerate publishing?

Mitchinson said that Unbound has the ability to move much more quickly than traditional publishers and claimed that a book can feasibly be funded and published within two weeks. He also noted that publishers were making publishing decisions based on “what the retailer wants to sell” rather than what the reader wants to buy.

The new world order, according to Mitchinson, is catering directly to readers. “It’s an incredibly powerful feeling when you start to connect directly with readers,” he said. He added that Unbound’s 50/50 profit share was fairer to the author than deals offered by conglomerate publishers.

The question of what publishers need to do to offer value to an author was picked up by Charlie Redmayne, who underscored that in the past, the customer was the trade itself, while the present is about taking multiple routes to market. Redmayne said that publishers need to become experts in product development that will benefit both the author and the reader. The result of this is that publishers “need to employ a new skill set in order to offer value” to the author and reader, also “need to do things they’ve always done, only better.”

Jason Cooper from Faber & Faber put it a slightly different way, emphasizing that publisher’s position is be “a creative interface between the author and the reader,” and offered Faber Academy as an example of how that might be done. It literally “opened the door to consumers,” he said. Cooper admitted that the Faber’s existing brand and heritage has been a huge advantage for them in developing this strategy.

Jonathan Williams, founder of Box Fiction, had a non-traditional take on the question. Rather than develop IP around an author or book series, why not simply create book content around existing brands instead? Williams said he believes that that the novel is a ubiquitous format — the equivalent to film — so publishers would do well to see it as an equivalent format.

Unexpectedly, the question of how to handle the mid-list also got significant airtime.

Ironically, it was Charlie Redmayne, representing the book industry’s biggest brand — ahem, Harry Potter — who was banging the drum for how publishers need “to find ways of publishing the midlist more cheaply.” He suggested that the publishing industry was starting to look like a “triangle”with the big brands, the midlist and self-publishing each taking a corner.

His theory was that the growth of the self-publishing sector, and the publisher obsession with concentrating on the big brands (thereby pushing up the cost of  the big titles), was combining to have a deleterious effect on the midlist. The panel was in agreement that were publishing to continue to position itself as a thought leader to society, it needed to accommodate the nurturing of the midlist, and provide for the discovery of new writing talent and development of IP in-house.

The new publisher certainly looks very different today – it could be an agent (Jonny Geller’s Curtis Brown has just gone into a publishing venture with Pan Macmillan’s new Bello imprint), a crowd-funded community (John Mitchinson’s Unbound) or a start-up not concerned with publishing a single novel (Box Fiction). Geller emphasized that it’s the author’s decision how and where they’re publishing: “We don’t have a job without an author,” he said, adding that authors should simply choose “whoever they can trust to work with.”

What was most striking from this session is that the evidence that while publishing models are still changing, the relationship between these new publishers is relaxing. Two years ago the thought of these traditional lines breaking down would have sent chills down the spines of many, but the sentiment of the panel seemed to be one of excitement, opportunity and flexibility and, importantly, not animosity toward each other. Perhaps it was simply a pre-Christmas truce but this positive attitude to change, and resistance to allowing the old models to restrict the development of the new, seemed to be a significant shift in the psyche of the publishing industry — one away from animosity toward looking forward to new digital developments.

Sophie Rochester is founder of The Literary Platform and director of Fiction Uncovered.

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  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    What is fascinating here is the notion that publishers are moving beyond their traditional role of “gatekeeper” to something more flexible, faster and malleable, as an “intermediary between authors and readers”. Obviously publishers best positioned to do this are Amazon and other (lesser) e-publishers. They’ll be in the arena ahead of traditional publishers, whether UK or US-based.

    Who else is in the arena? Pottermore of course, but also self-pubbed authors, particularly those who were once traditionally published and are now busy e-publishing their backlist. To some extent, it’s too late for trad publishers to wake up to the need to “nurture” their midlist authors and cater to e-publishing their back list. They’re doing that themselves, no help needed, and some of them (like Konrath) are making a lot of money at it!

    Traditional publishers seemed to have gotten themselves stuck on a marketing strategy focused on Big Name Authors as a way to ward off the digital revolution. Taking refuge in big names looked like a safe response. But e-changes are inexorable and clearly publishers are beginning to realize this. The role of gatekeeper should not be abandoned but expanded. It should include searching for new talents and having the courage to by-pass retailers and trying to respond to readers taste. A tall order, but one that should provide high returns!

  2. Posted December 8, 2011 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Excellent report on the FutureBooks conference. Ebooks are the answer for all those midlist writers whose work traditional publishers have rejected for some years now. Yet because it’s so easy to produce an ebook,there is a vast ocean of self-published ebooks available. A filter is necessary. I’m hoping that WritersReadersDirect will become increasingly known as the place where good writers reach the readers they deserve, and readers can find the kind of writing that traditional print publishers can no longer afford to take on. I’m expanding the remit to include previously published work, dependent on rights reversal.
    Wanted: submission from more good writers!

  3. Posted December 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Re: Publishers must beat Amazon by selling more outside Amazon than Amazon can

    I have developed a business plan for an online market that will facilitate the buying and selling of advertisement spaces on single-author blogs (e.g., blogs that feature installments of serial novels). The market will feature two virtual currencies that are complementary. Use of these currencies can be expected to attract cash buyers to the market.

    Benefits for bloggers who use the market:

    * a better way than LinkedIn to engage and improve their professional network (70% of all jobs are secured via professional contacts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; LinkedIn reports having 135M+ users as of November
    3, 2011)
    * a better way to attract buyers of blog-ad space who pay with cash

    A key benefit for readers (e.g., of serial fiction): a better source of ratings by other readers than Amazon.com.

    All told, then, a better way than AMZN for “startup” writers to gain distribution, and then generate income.

    Imho. :-)

    How to make it expensive for AMZN et al. to poach the promising startups?

    Couple the market with a variant of Alloy Entertainment.

    From an August 28, 2011 article in The New York Times:

    “Scan the credits of a prime-time television drama series with a teenage girl
    protagonist and you’re bound to see the name Leslie Morgenstein, chief executive of Alloy Entertainment. He may not have his own Wikipedia entry, but over the last
    10 years he has transformed Alloy, which packages teenage book series like ‘Sweet Valley High’ and ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,’ into a prolific producer of television series adapted from the company’s books.

    . . . The company hires a writer to execute a series, often under a pen name. Story creation is a collaboration among executives and the writer, who cedes
    ownership of the results to Alloy.”

    The Alloy variant will publish serial novels that showcase high-performing participants in the market.

    Details at http://novel.OpportuniTV.com.

    Thoughts? Questions?



    I have filed a provisional application to patent the price mechanism that is central to the market.

    The plan has been praised by analysts at Microsoft, Amazon and top VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

  4. Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    I guess that’s us then – a “creative intermediary”


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