what publishers should do

This article appeared in modified form on Boing Boing.


You can’t work at a book publisher for more than five minutes without someone telling you what publishers should do. (You know, “to survive.” “Be relevant.” Something.)

Even literary agents, who should know better, will get in on this action. One of the most prominent agents in New York, seated next to me at an event a few years back, took the opportunity to lecture me through the appetizer course on how book publishers should band together and “build their own Amazon” to sell books. Digital disruption = solved.

“Ma’am, you may have a point. You don’t, for All The Reasons, but let’s say you did. The book publishing industry is made of book people. Book people as a class pride themselves on knowing about everything—except computers, with a vengeance. They still edit 100,000-word manuscripts with pencils. I could count on one finger the number of people in this business who could program a coffee-maker. How in the world would the people in charge hire a single competent developer? If you’d seen the technological boondoggles, the 7-figure white-label ‘content management systems,’ these rubes have fallen for…”

If you really enjoy unsolicited opinions about what publishers should do, go work at Amazon to help build a New York book publishing imprint from the ground up. The book people who still talk to you afterward will be happy to tell you what you’re doing wrong. (Guys, I’m not working at Amazon anymore. Can we be friends again?)

All that said: I know what publishers should do.

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