Having lately switched my jersey to play for Team Agent after many years running with Team Publisher, what surprised me at once was that that my job hasn’t changed. As citizens of an interconnected ecosystem, none of us in the book universe are on entirely opposing sides.
Are some traditional booksellers in jeopardy of demise in 2011 thanks to tablets and e-readers? Can we ding agents for fanning the fire if they become publishers? Will digerati party crashers finally ruin everyone’s chance for making a profit? Maybe it’s all true, but there was never a remarkable amount of money to be made in this industry anyway, relative to some others.
Depressed yet? Don’t be.
Coupled with the distraction of constant change is the chance to innovate. What’s most true for the book industry in 2011 is that the year delivers an outstanding opportunity for its paid participants to be entrepreneurial. Why should crunchy tech smarties like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, or even Tim O’Reilly for that matter, have all the fun? When my young son builds a tower with blocks, the best part for him is knocking it down; but when his sister decimates his work, well, that’s when all the crying starts. Creative destruction is always more fun when it’s your own idea.
Our offerings. Publishers, as well as a few agents and booksellers, are getting damp up to the knee trying a bit of everything. Experimentation. There’s chunking of content, digital serialization, varied attempts at multimedia, graphical formats and iPhone apps. Generally, however, the approaches have been scattershot. Maybe the moment has come to stop experimenting and start investing more aggressively in new forms? Wade in more deeply and have a new product strategy.
Our compact with readers. Do any of us really feel connected to customers who buy single copies? Sure, we’re tweeting and re-tweeting, but what can 140 characters really tell you? Communities of interest for readers and writers like Shelfari, Squidoo, and Wattpad are everywhere. Though few of the social networks for readers and writers are publisher-driven. There are plenty of passionate readers out there forming book clubs and online forums, we need to work harder to forge a relationship with the people who populate them.
Our business model. Maybe there’s still money to be made, so let’s start shaking the trees like we mean it. Why wait for Apple or Google to Netflix us? Trying something radical ourselves may offer better opportunities than death by a thousand cuts. Talk amongst yourselves. There’s no silver bullet here. But our saving grace may be that the passion people in our industry have for books and literature (not to mention survival) may just fuel the entrepreneurial vision that leads us into the future.