An interesting article on the future of publishing, changing processes within publishers…

Rethinking the Publishing Company by Kassia Krozser
September 14th, 2010

I think we all know what the publisher of today looks like. The hierarchy and positions have become comfortable, established. Sort of like really nice flannel pajamas. That’s not to say nothing ever evolves; I mean, who wears the same pair of pajamas forever? And, if you talk to publishing people, you know those flannel pajamas are threadbare in parts, have a few holes, yet remain too familiar to abandon.

Now the analogy falls apart, mostly because while, sure, I can talk about pajamas with great authority, I’d rather talk about new jobs and new skills for 21st century (and beyond!) publishing companies. It’s a mix of stuff I’ve discussed before (as have others), stuff I’ve been mulling over, and stuff I’m test driving.

Note: there are publishers out there already implementing and hiring and rethinking. Love them. Love them. Love them.

Second note: these are not single person positions. They are skills. They are woven into the job.

Project Development

Hands down, the coolest changes will happen in the editorial department. Editors will continue to acquire, develop, copyedit, and go to bat for great projects. No question there. You’re not going to get out of acquisitions meetings that easily.

However, acquisitions editors will change how they think about — and there’s no way around this word — projects. There will be booky-books. There will be multimedia extravaganzas. The type of project will drive the final product. Just as authors and agents are starting to think big picture when it comes to works they are shopping, so, more and more, will editors. Is it text, is it a web-based community, is it an application, is it a living, interactive experience? One or more of those?

The key difference between an enhanced/transmedia/fill-in-your-buzzword books and books with some additional marketing material is how it is approached in-house from day one. Enhancements must be planned, and they must be logical. This requires vision at the acquisition phase. The editor of the future will consider what serves the work rather than what serves a format, and that editor will be required to consider enhancements for every book published, deciding if they are truly transformative or merely marketing on a case-by-case basis.

Our thoroughly modern editor will sometimes go by the the name project developer. Rightly so. Even today, books are projects. Acquisition, editing, artwork, production, marketing…all of these are part of the final product that is known as a book. This project must be shepherded through the entire process, guided by a strong vision. Fragmentation of vision is a guarantee of failure.

Someone needs to be in charge of all aspects of the book — whatever form it takes — from beginning to end. This is particularly true if the book is slotted as a transmedia project. Nobody — nobody! — is better positioned to execute the vision than the acquiring editor. It’s a different kind of job. It’s a visionary kind of job.

Note: Marketing material, those author interviews and recipes and tacked-on content, is just that. Never confuse the two, because your readers won’t.

It will take a different set of skills, and not every editor will be suited to the job. This doesn’t make them less valuable. The new publishing house leverages all types of specialized and generalized skills. The coordination of a multimedia project requires the ability to see the finished project, to find the right in-house or third party talent to fulfill the vision, to keep the entire project on track, and, yep, drive the marketing machine. Editing a booky-book (which may be digital, print, or both) requires other skills.

As a booky-book type person, I appreciate that editor beyond words.

(In my magic world, marketing reports to the editorial team because that’s where the vision starts.)

Editorial, Again

Editorial staff will be on the front lines of coding manuscripts; they’ve already started this. Yes, I did say coding. There will be tools to make this job easier. They will be awesome tools. They will work the way they’re supposed to work the first time. Because this is the future and things work in the future.

But the process of mark-up will originate in the editorial group and — if all goes according to plan — be finessed in what can only be called the copyediting phase (but there will be a cool job title associated with this). In order for a true XML or any digital based workflow to be effective, the manuscript handed over to production must be properly prepared. That’s the job of editorial. You cannot count on production to guess at formatting, and getting it done right by editorial means fewer passes at the manuscript.

Because this is my magic world, authors will also work with Word correctly, making the lives of the editorial staff much more pleasant.

(These skills are not crazy-fantasy talk. These are the skills that are — almost — innate to anyone who spends time in the online world. It’s not how old you are, it’s how comfortable you are with digital tools. Within a generation, this familiarity will be part of our DNA.)


Obviously, the ideal is a digital file that can be output to any and/or all formats possible. The file will (ideally) be ready for a little graceful degradation — a concept that allows the book to move from a high-end system that displays all bells and whistles to the lowly eInk device (which is not so lowly). Or progressive enhancement, which is the opposite, with the same result.

Right now, outsourcing is au courant. This adds costs to the product. I know publishers are bringing digital production in house, and, speaking as a consumer, it cannot happen too soon. We get too many bad conversions, be they library titles or brand-new books. Better workflow will lead to happier consumers!

Oh, and production people will be involved, to a degree, with the creation of all that lovely multimedia stuff. They have talent in layout, design, typography, HTML 5, Flash (yes, okay, but yes), audio, and more. This is the staff who will handle projects great and small. Having the right people on staff is critical. They need to know the technology, today’s and tomorrow’s, because it’s impossible to make smart decisions without understanding what is being requested versus what can be done.

They may not have all the talents necessary, or time necessary, for projects. But if you don’t have people on staff who understand the project, how do you communicate it to freelancers and consultants? How do you get effective (read: cost effective) bids? How do you know who to hire? Who speaks the right language? Who translates between the creative team and technical team? Who makes the decisions to outsource or handle it in-house?

Hmm, overlap with marketing? I’m sure there is. It’s either the circle of life or the way teams in publishing should work. Your call.


I sorta feel like I should leave marketing out of all this because there are smarter minds than mine thinking about how to connect books with readers. Marketing is tough, and if anyone has figured out the formula for marketing books, I haven’t heard it. In a perfect world, every book gets a huge marketing push and that helps it sell a bazillion copies. In the real world, that doesn’t happen.

Still marketing needs to be involved early and often. Not to say that they can’t figure out how to market a book editorial loves. Marketing, I think, should be yes men. Marketing should be working with editors to figure out how to best position that book to reach the right reader. We have so many options, so many possibilities, that books should be less about can’t, and more about how.

(The above paragraph should have a reasonability clause. Sometimes you need a grown-up in the room because you can definitely swing from those rafters, but someone needs to point out the rotted beams.)

There are a lot of parts to the marketing job, and the work is piling on, not reducing. Today’s marketing people must know the traditional aspects of their job as well as web analytics, web development techniques (if not to build in-house, then to clearly guide contractors), online social media (meaning offline social media, too), and more.

Marketing needs to be part of a partnership. When Jonathan Karp announced his reorg focusing on small teams, there was understandable skepticism. The vision of “…two editors, two publicists, and one marketing specialist…” was seen as fantastical. Clearly, this small team approach is only meant for some books, though the zeitgeist should permeate the entire Simon & Schuster publishing environment. At least I hope it will.

It’s a great vision, one I’ve advocated (and probably stole from Karp somewhere along the line). As you see above, I’d add in production people in certain circumstances. Teams need to be across disciplines, based on the book, not hierarchy.

I’ve worked in team environments before, and with the right team, things are amazing. There’s a flow that happens, especially when egos get checked at the door and strengths and weaknesses are accepted and embraced. I’ve worked in bad team environments as well. Made me appreciate the great teams all that much more.

Marketing needs to be focused on traditional and digital. It needs to be focused on consumer-oriented, personal communication. Social media — which is our digital version of hand-selling — needs to move beyond the push approach to the conversation. Which means marketers need to be empowered to speak to consumers directly, in the places where consumers live.

One of my favorite marketing initiatives of the past few years happened when the person behind the Little, Brown Twitter feed and a sales rep for Random House separately engaged in making holiday suggestions for readers. Yes, they pimped their own house books, but they also made thoughtful suggestions. To me, this is the best kind of marketing a publisher can do. I’m still thinking about it, two holiday seasons later.

Consumer Relations

One major publisher has, of course, looked to hire a director of piracy. In my opinion, the job description (mostly) did not describe a director-level position. Presumably there will be staff to handle the take-down notices and whatnot. That leaves a lot of free time for a director, assuming said director has staff, and if you’re a director without staff, huh?.

What I propose is creating a smarter, more robust team dedicated to consumer relations. Piracy is part of this group. Macmillan’s biggest flaw — based on their job description — is the job they’ve described is entirely focused on anti-piracy initiatives, most of which are not terribly effective. There wasn’t a single proactive, consumer-focused task on the list. Which is not to say this position is not needed. Piracy is a huge problem. But focusing on fly-swatting is not a director-level job.

Focusing on consumer relations? There’s a job. Especially if publishers are serious about moving into a business-to-consumer world. The customer service aspect of the job will increase. This group will be online everywhere, and will be all over the globe, talking to readers at festivals and conferences. They’ll be selling the publisher and catalog instead of a single book. They’ll be selling the value of books in smart ways.

Right now, no publisher is talking to readers about what they do, how it matters, how consumers fit into the ecosystem. It’s so much easier to rip of a faceless conglomerate than it is to rip off someone you know. Consumers don’t know publishers. They don’t know the business. They don’t know how their choices impact authors. Wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

Which leads me to one of the toughest consumer problems publishers face today. Handling the issues surrounding bad files and making sure readers get what they paid for (or licensed, as the case may be). I’ve spent some time trying to deal with ebook quality control issues via various the customer service areas of various publishers, and I haven’t been very pleased with the results.

The best is Random House, who uses Get Satisfaction. However, the responses still haven’t been that great, questions have disappeared, and my comments have also disappeared. Also, I couldn’t figure out to get there from the RH website; a friend pointed me toward the service. Still, I did get responses, if not satisfaction.

B2C means dealing with crazy ebook problems, dealing with piracy, dealing with Twitter, blog postings, Facebook, GoodReads, and any other forum where people are talking about your books. The job overlaps with marketing (which should offer a hint of where this job fits on the org chart), but focuses on what consumers are saying. This position (or positions) should have a voice, an ability to influence management. The consumer is not always right (oh boy!), but the consumer has a point-of-view that should be represented.

Dealing with consumers directly is hard. Trust me, I have a nasty scar to prove it. Listening to consumers is absolutely worth it. The publishers who get this will engender great goodwill. The publishers who don’t will not. The latter is not good.

I know I’ve overlooked, underanalyzed, barely considered these roles. What am I missing? What other roles need to be rethought? I’ve left out finance, I’ve left out web development. Boy, there is an entire week of essays. Most importantly, I’ve left out passion. I linked to Ami Greko’s “Three Jobs Publishing Houses Need to Fill in 2010″ at the beginning of this piece, but wanted to circle back to one job she identifies: The Passionate Insider.

I particularly like her examples of passion, and at least one of the people she calls out had her work noted in this article. Passion, talent, skills. One can be taught. One can be developed. And one can be the key to success.