When Publishing Begins to Look Like a Bad Relationship

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Editorial by Edward Nawotka

On the eve of the 2014 Frankfurt Book Fair, Ed Nawotka wonders if publishers, booksellers, and authors need to closely examine their relationships with each other.
Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

Often, in relationships, there comes a time when partners go their separate ways. It’s not always a lack of love that kills the relationship, but sometimes it’s a focus on one’s own interests and, more often, there is also a lack of respect for the other’s position. Unfortunately, all too often these days, publishing is starting to look like a bad relationship.

Take the headline-grabbing story of 2014 in the United States: Amazon vs. Hachette.

For starters, we really only know what they are telling their friends in the media, but we do not really know what is happening behind closed doors. We would be naïve not to think that some kind of conflict has been going on for years and has only now gone public. But as is often the case in bad relationships,, the ones who are really getting hurt in all this are those that have little to no say in the matter—in publishing, it’s the authors. They are the ones dependent on these two to get along and maintain a happy household. Yet, the longer the fight continues, the more harm is done to those who deserve it the least.

Or take self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. For years now, there has been nothing but a war of words between the two. Self-publishers have accused traditional publishers of being arrogant gatekeepers—the person at the party everyone wanted to dance with but who remained aloof. On the other side, traditional publishing has been looking at self-publishers, or rather, independent publishers, as, well, the wallflower at the party with whom no one wanted to dance.

Now, the one who was so aloof has shown their vulnerable side and the wallflower has become brassy, even vulgar, in their confidence. Today, they, too, are in an uneasy relationship, with self-publishers leveraging the traditional industry for distribution and services and traditional publishers cherry-picking bestsellers and borrowing from the independent publishing business model.

The question is whether either of these relationships, which are based on thinning foundations of mutual self-interest, can survive. And if they don’t, who might be impacted the most?

Is it readers, those who will be given a choice between millions of low-cost titles feeding the popular culture on one end, and a thinning list of pricey, professionally vetted titles—ones that ideally, are intended to advance the literary culture—on the other?

Or is it the writers or publishers or booksellers themselves, the ones who crave stability and reliability in order to get their day-to-day jobs done?
Maybe in some cases going separate ways would be better. Maybe it would allow each to grow in their own way, to experiment, to take the time to look inside themselves, meet new people—be they writers or readers—and find out what they really want.

Maybe after a time they will find that what they really want is each other. What they really want is to be together. That making it work is better than being apart. That there’s respect—and even love—where it counts the most.

Right now, all we know is that the fighting has got to stop.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.