This, from the New Yorker (Apr. 26), an essay by Ken Auletta called "Publish or Perish" about the iPad vs. the Kindle, got me thinking (further) about authors and publishers and who needs whom? A couple of quotes from the essay:
"Tim O'Reilly...thinks that the old publishers' model is fundamentally flawed. 'They think their customer is the bookstore,' he says. 'Publishers never built the infrastructure to respond to customers.'"
In other words, publishers have been selling to bookstores, not to readers. Which, when bookstores were small and owned and staffed by readers, didn't really make much of a difference. But now? Costco? Wal-Mart?
"...readers have no particular association with any given publisher; in books THE AUTHOR IS THE BRAND NAME." (emphasis, mine)
So, if this is true... what is the publisher for? Editing? Marketing? (not anymore) Distribution? (not anymore)
"Carolyn Reidy, of Simon & Schuster, said, 'In the digital world, it is possible for authors to publish without publishers. It is therefore incumbent on us to prove our worth to authors every day.' But publishers have been slow to take up new technologies that might help authors."
You're telling me...
"'The publishers are afraid of a retailer that can replace them,' [Jane] Friedman said. 'An author needs a publisher for nurturing, editing, distributing, and marketing. If the publishers are cutting back on marketing, which is the biggest complaint authors have, and Amazon stays at eighty per cent of the e-book market, why do you need the publisher?'"
Yes, that's what I'd like to know.
"Publishers maintain that digital companies don't understand the creative process of books. A major publisher said of Amazon, 'They don't know how authors think. It's not in their DNA.' Neither Amazon, Apple, nor Google has experience in recruiting, nurturing, editing, and marketing writers. The acknowledgments pages of books are an efficiency expert's nightmare; authors routinely thank editors and publishers for granting an extra year to complete a manuscript, for taking late-night phone calls, for the loan of a summer house. These kinds of gestures are unlikely to be welcomed in cultures built around engineering efficiencies."
True, that. But why can't authors step in and help each other out, with summer houses and late night phone calls and such? Or readers? The way I see it, publishers (and agents, too) understand less and less about how "authors think." It's authors who understand how authors think, isn't it? And readers? Now there's a coalition worth creating, for the benefit of all.
Read the whole essay here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta