Disrupting Editorial: A Case for Publisher–Start-Up Content Development

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Despite areas where traditional publishers are seeking outside support and the plethora of start-ups emerging to provide it, partnerships between the two remain limited. If it stays that way, publishers may ultimately have more to lose.

One solution? Open up the editorial process to out-of-house input.

Findings from a recent study presented during the Publishers Launch conference at Digital Book World 2014 by conference chair Mike Shatzkin highlighted current disparities between the 25 traditional publishers and 43 publishing start-ups surveyed. Nearly three-quarters of the latter consider themselves to be “disruptive,” with the majority of those intending to disrupt publishers specifically.

Start-ups appear to see themselves squarely in the trade publishing marketplace, primarily offering solutions for data, discoverability and marketing issues, among a range of others. Publishers overwhelmingly report needing help on each of those things. When the two camps work together, Shatzkin said, “workflow and marketing seem to be the central points of discussion.”

So why don’t we see more productive publisher–start-up partnerships than we do, at least in those areas if not outside them? To get a better sense of what publishers believe start-ups can offer them, it helps to look consider what they feel what they can’t offer them.


Traditional publishers may be inclined to see editorial development as the heart and soul of their business, the area most driven by the discernment and taste of talented editors. That may well be true, but editors today are increasingly pressed to back up their instincts with market data and metrics — some of the very things start-ups appear best positioned to provide.

Indeed, the survey found that “one hundred percent of publishers see data, insight and intelligence as a challenge they’d like help with,” Shatzkin said. When it comes time to applying them to the editorial process, though, publishers are more inclined to shut their doors.

As Shatzkin summarized publishers’ interests, “they’re primarily looking for practical help with their current business and making financial considerations–risks or opportunities.” In other words, vendors who moonlight as consultants.

But when it comes to determining what sorts of content readers want, the best methods for delivering it amidst the cacophony of the digital marketplace and measuring its impact there, start-ups may be able to play bigger roles than publishers are so far comfortable with. That means not just promoting and tracking the performance of content, but actually helping to develop it.

For traditional publishers, a better strategy in the long-run might be to welcome start-ups into the editorial space now, lest wind up competing with them there later.

Source of slide: Publishing Start-Up Survey


Related: Why Publishers Should Partner with Start-Ups

8 thoughts on “Disrupting Editorial: A Case for Publisher–Start-Up Content Development

  1. Pingback: Faber Factory Disrupting Editorial: A Case for Publisher–Start-Up Content Development - Faber Factory

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  3. Steven Zacharius

    I for one welcome disruption. This is one of the reasons we acquired Lyrical Press, Inc….a small digital first publishing house. I wanted the brains of the founder to enlighten me as to what we were doing wrong as a NYC publishing house. The process has only started but it’s been eye-opening. The entire editorial submission process is light years ahead of where we were as was the online editing process. Even the way royalties were paid, utilizing an online payment system to authors made us look like dinosaurs. I’ll continue to look for more such disruptors. Hopefully they’re able to teach us new tricks to take us into the future.

    Steven Zacharius
    President and CEO
    Kensington Publishing Corp.

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  6. William Ash

    This is really no surprise. Publishers are conservative. They are mostly word people that simply think in terms of steamed text. However, if they are really going to take on e-publishing, then the medium will influence the content, just as movies have their own form outside theater, ebooks will outside paper.

    Although to be honest, publishers have been bitten by the \enhanced\ ebooks. They were not a great success. But that is what happens with new media. Folks just add bells and whistles which add little to the readers experience beyond a wow-neat factor. These technologies have to be relevant for the experience, not simply add ons. But part of that is also get the authors to make books in those terms. And authors are more conservative and disinterested in this than publishers.

    But like most things, time will make the change. There is just too many exciting things you can do with books digitally. The publishing industry will catchup. It will be individual experimenting with ebooks that will find the answer. There will be lots of failures and lots of iterations, but we will get there. Just look at the internet which just started at text page (probably center justified with bright green text on a black background), but now has really amazing content.

  7. Dmitriy Litvak

    Everyone talking about e-books, but nobody about e-catalogs ( for collectors).
    And I know – why?
    Because it wasn’t any program (application) to transfer data from printed catalogs to their e-analogs.
    I think -I’m one of this \disruption\…
    For the last 15 years I was working, and recently solved, on this problem.
    I created the universal numbering system for e-catalogs for collectors – \ESPERANTO-SYSTEM\.
    On a top of this system I created the template for web application, which solely can govern the web site ( mobile app).

    The readers got their e-books, so , why collectors can’t have their \E-CATALOGS\.

    Last year I sent application for provisional patent. The Patent Search shown – \zero\ interference with existing patents. Right now I’m working on application for utility patent….

    Anyway – this is a niche in e-publication, with prospective hundred thousand customers.
    If anyone interested to learn more about it – please answer to: dml911 at gmail dot com
    I will glad to send you a booklet.

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