Commenting on the Publishing Wars of 2012

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

When I came into the book publishing industry just nine months ago, one of the many interesting things I discovered was how passionate everyone was about other peoples’ business.

In my years as a journalist, I had never encountered an industry where people cared so much about how other companies in the industry were doing business. I’ve read countless Tweets, blog posts and emails about what publishers should be doing, or about how booksellers should change their practices, or how some start-up should engage in a different strategy. Of course, there are always industry observers who have opinions about how things should be run at various companies, but it’s ordinarily a professional interest. In book publishing, it’s backed by real passion.

It’s been challenging for me covering the industry as a result. At Digital Book World, we try to be objective as we cover the news but it doesn’t stop people from thinking we’re secretly in cahoots with one party or another in the publishing industry debates. (I’ve been called a cheerleader for publishers, for instance.)

In case there’s any lingering questions, here are where my loyalties lie: to provide the best, most timely information on digital publishing and e-books so that those in the industry or considering getting into the industry can excel at their jobs and build their businesses. What do I want to see happen at publishers and booksellers? Interesting, smart moves and growth. Who do I root for? Sadly, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres (I’m sure you sports fans out there feel my pain).

All that said, I was delighted to see Bob Mayer’s blog post yesterday, “The Great Publishing Wars of 2012.” In it, he basically says, “I’ve been spending a bit too much time worrying other people’s knitting — it’s time to focus on my own writing and my own business.” (Bob, please feel free to chime in here if I read this wrong.)

When I asked Bob to become a DBW Expert Blogger, I knew he would deliver both insight and opinion. But, like with all our 35 or so bloggers, I also worried.

For those of you who don’t know much about how the DBW Expert Blog works, each of the bloggers has a unique log in to the Digital Book World content management system and can post at will. They have agreed to follow certain conventions that ensure the posts are of high quality (and not libelous, for instance). We also give them resources, like free access to an images database and editorial and promotional assistance.

So, once any of the bloggers is in the system, they are free to write about what they want and publish to our homepage whenever they want. In Bob’s case, I knew we’d hear about what was going on at a digital publishing start-up (Bob is the founder of Cool Gus Publishing) and probably also about working with Amazon versus traditional publishers (the world where Bob came from).

I stand behind every post Bob ever made for us 110%, but some of them veered toward attending to others’ knitting above one’s own. Posts titled, “Was March 2012 the month Traditional Publishing died?” and “AAR & Publishers & Bookstores: Facilitators need to adapt, not defend” stirred up a bit of controversy.

While I love controversy and opinions — as long as their well-articulated and defended — I think writing less about what others should be doing and focusing on content and his business is a smart move for Bob — and everyone else in the industry.

As one commenter in Bob’s post put it, “let’s stop being so negative and/or one-sided and just work on creating our own best product. The best way to help publishing is absolutely to make your own publishing more efficient and customer/audience-friendly.”

Quick anecdote: I was playing poker this weekend and someone sitting at my table kept on giving commentary at the end of every hand, most of which he wasn’t involved in. He started most of his words of advice with, “you should have…” with the obvious benefit of hindsight. I wanted to ask him so badly, “why are you telling all these other people what they should have done?” For one, he wasn’t doing so well himself. Second, why would he want to give his competition the benefit of his wisdom (please add in air quotes when you say the word “wisdom”).

Soldier image via Shutterstock

2 thoughts on “Commenting on the Publishing Wars of 2012

  1. Bob Mayer

    It occurs to me that just because I am FOR something, that doesn’t mean I have to be AGAINST something else. I don’t think it’s a question of indie vs trad or legacy vs Amazon. The reality is that a merging can work better than the original.

  2. Liana

    Right you are Jeremy and Bob. I read Bob’s blog and quickly sent it on to my directors. We recently had a session with Andy Rice and we had the functionality/what it is v content debate when designing a marketing strategy. Our conclusion is in line with Bob’s because content is king. With our new venture, we’re bringing the New Yorker to South Africa and although our readers won’t be familiar with our format, they will be interested in our content and our authors. Our strategy will now be not to say what it is, but what we’re offering. We have some fabulous content on the cards and will fill the gap where South African readers are feeling dissatisfied with an article but don’t have time to read a book! Thank you for your blogs guys, I learn from you constantly. Best, Liana



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