Michael Cairns has a really good post today that distills a lot of thoughts I have had over the last several years into a clear formulation: that the publisher needs to serve as a “digital concierge” for its author.
Three years ago, Brian O’Leary, Ted Hill, and I did a study of marketing spend for a mid-sized trade house. At that time we articulated the notion of a “new marketing partnership” between publishers and authors. We urged then that publishers do what is necessary to make it easy for authors to promote themselves on the web because, in the modern world, that marketing energy would be indispensible.
What was a fairly forward-thinking suggestion in 2006 has become a common understanding by 2009. Harper has launched several author-centric initiatives. Sourcebooks just unveiled a suite of tools and advice for authors to promote themselves effectively. And, of course, I’m a co-founder of Filedby, Inc., and the filedby web site is all about delivering web promotion capabilities to book authors, photographers, and illustrators at scale.
I guess it won’t surprise any frequent readers to hear that I believe that the success of this concept depends on…verticalization!
The swingeing volume of detail that Michael points out is impossible for authors to navigate (Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed are just the start, really) is also really impossible for publishers to navigate as well. I believe that is becoming increasingly obvious in many houses. The web worlds of knitting and beading are quite distinct, even if books on either subject would go into the crafts section at Barnes & Noble. The web world of parenting is one thing; the web world of parenting an autistic child would be quite another. Publishers who don’t specialize, focus their specialization, and learn the web world for the fields they are in are trapped in marketing that is massively labor-intensive and yielding no advantages of scale.
Publishers (anybody, really…) gains expertise by repeated use, involvement, familiarity. Publishers have had credibility telling authors what will work with a B&N buyer, a NY Times book critic, or the booker for Oprah or Today. They’ve worked with these outlets many times before and the author hasn’t. The digital concierge, in order to really help me, has to be able to tell me which of the sites for my book on summer night stargazing will take my posts, link to my blog, generate followers on Twitter. Otherwise they’re just giving me general advice a bit more easily, but no more personalized, than I could get from a web site dispensing advice. Or a book.
This is very much a transitional need. Ten years from now, most authors will have arisen from the ranks of the digital community for their subject. We’re very much in a transitional time (one very important point that will be made in my “Stay Ahead of the Shift” talk next Thursday), and the concierge will be characteristic of the transition.
I’m working hard at BEA. Please join me. “Stay Ahead of the Shift”: Thursday 5/28 at Javits Center at 11. “StartWithXML for Editors”: Thursday at 3. And “Digital Debut Tool Time” Friday morning 5/29 at 9:30.