Changing Tides

Digital delivery and consumption has completely changed the publishing industry.  For thousands of years, reading was something you did by yourself.  Unless you announced it, nobody knew if you even opened a book you bought, let alone finished it.  Now, publishers can know what time of day you read it, how fast you read it, where you stopped, what you highlighted, what you shared, and what you bought or read next.

Most authors probably love this:

Novelist Scott Turow says he’s long been frustrated by the industry’s failure to study its customer base. “I once had an argument with one of my publishers when I said, ‘I’ve been publishing with you for a long time and you still don’t know who buys my books,’ and he said, ‘Well, nobody in publishing knows that,’ ” says Mr. Turow, president of the Authors Guild. “If you can find out that a book is too long and you’ve got to be more rigorous in cutting, personally I’d love to get the information.”

But there’s always people afraid of this kind of change:

“The thing about a book is that it can be eccentric, it can be the length it needs to be, and that is something the reader shouldn’t have anything to do with,” says Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “We’re not going to shorten ‘War and Peace’ because someone didn’t finish it.”

What these scared publishers don’t realize is that this explosion in data is only going to help them.  The market for a boring book hardly anyone finishes isn’t exactly big.  Trying to market it to the masses is going to waste a lot of money.

The problem most people have is differentiating friend and foe.  It’s easy to fight against new tools, to declare yourself a martyr who won’t bend to the tastes of the unwashed masses.  It’s much harder to figure out how those tools will help you connect with and grow your own audience.  But if you don’t, you’ll get swept away.


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