Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
It’s a question that’s been floating around for years now: What do publishers do in an era when anyone can publish a book?
And publishers have been answering it.
Several years ago, Digital Book World obtained a leaked document that publisher Hachette had been circulating among agents and authors, explaining the value it added to the publishing process (read the complete document here and here’s a response from self-publishing advocate J.A. Konrath). Later, Random House put out a series of videos directly explaining what publishers do.
And now, Simon & Schuster has launched a series of videos featuring its editors giving inside details about titles and authors called “Behind the Book.” The company said in a release that the series is meant to be “an extension and a complement to Simon & Schuster’s ongoing series of author videos, offering new and revealing information that can enhance and inform the reading experience.”
The move also serves to give Simon & Schuster a consumer-facing brand that could help it in the future when legitimizing its role in the publishing process to authors and partners.
“In addition to providing background for our books and authors, one of the main rationales for the series was to showcase Simon & Schuster personnel,” Adam Rothberg, senior vice president of corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, told me. “We know from our own internal meetings and discussions how articulate and passionate they can be, and this new video series allows them, in a direct-to-consumer forum, to also serve in an ambassadorial role for their imprint and our company while sharing the knowledge and enthusiasm for their books with readers.”
Self-publishing advocates often argue that publishers don’t add enough value to the publishing process to legitimize their take. Publishers have responded by saying that they help make books better, offer them print distribution, help authors get translated into other languages and exploit other opportunities, and help authors build careers.
This series of videos is another small way that publishers are saying to authors — and readers — that they add value. The videos themselves (there are five at this point) show editors talking intelligently about various titles they worked on. They not only give curious readers an inside look at a book but also suggest, “hey, we know a lot of stuff about these books and ultimately help make them better.” One video even features author Mary Alice Monroe talking with her editor Lauren McKenna about how they work together, the editing process, and all the late-night, hours-long phone conversations between the two that resulted in her latest book:
In addition to the overt appeal to authors, readers and other stakeholders, the videos also should help Simon & Schuster build its consumer brand. In the book publishing world, authors have traditionally been the brand: Everyone wants to buy the new James Patterson title, not necessarily the latest release from his publisher, Hachette. But there are consumer brands among content companies in other media businesses and these brands give those companies advantages in the marketplace: For instance, everyone looks forward to new Disney and Pixar movies; and The New Yorker magazine has a loyal fan base and many of its readers know and follow its writers and editors.
With few exceptions, book publishers don’t have this advantage. So when they compete with other publishers for authors or negotiate with with partners, it’s hard for them to argue that readers look forward to each new release from the company or its editors. Changing that could give them a new tool to survive in a quickly shifting publishing landscape.