Can traditional publishers add value in an online world?

September 18, 2009

As more and more individuals self-publish (blogs, wikis, social media, on-demand publishing, as well as vanity press publishing), how relevant are traditional book publishers? What can they do to maintain some sort of market share in an increasingly fragmented world where anyone can be a writer — not matter how good or bad they are — and where anyone can put their thoughts out there for the world to see?

At a panel discussion held in Boston in June 2009, Andy Oram from O’Reilly (the publishers of those computer books with line drawings of animals on them) offered these suggestions for where publishers can add value:

  • Proofing for grammar, syntax, and consistency of usage
  • Fact-checking
  • Editing unclear and ambiguous passages
  • Integrating facets of large-scale text

You can read the entire article, with his supporting arguments and comments from others, here: http://toc.oreilly.com/2009/06/four-roles-for-publishers-stay.html

I particularly liked this comment:

A writer needs an editor, like an athlete needs a good coach, to help improve their performance.

(BTW, if I had the job of editing that list, I’d push for parallel structure on the second list item — ‘Checking facts’ instead of ‘Fact-checking’ — so that it matched the structure of the other list items! Just saying…)

[Links last checked July 2009]

One comment

  1. I would add to Andy Oram’s comments that a good publisher maintains a reputation for quality that enhances sales. If I want to learn about a topic, and there’s a publisher known for quality in that area (like O’Reilly is known for technical, esp. programming, titles), I’m likely to go to that publisher first.

    Ultimately, reputation matters, whether it’s a blog or a publisher, and an unknown writer will have more clout going through a known publisher than on his or her own, regardless of how good his or her book is.

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