Death of the publisher?

<p>There is an excellent ongoing discussion over on <a target="_blank" href="http://mssv.net/2007/07/23/the-death-of-book-publishers/">Mssv</a> about <a target="_blank" href="http://mssv.net/2007/07/23/the-death-of-book-publishers/">The Death of Publishers</a>. Thought-provoking points are being made from many contributors on all sides of this timely debate and I would urge those who haven't yet read the article to do so and then to contribute themselves. (I first became aware of the debate through Richard Charkin's blog.)</p>
<p><a target="_blank" href="http://mssv.net/2007/07/23/the-death-of-book-publishers/">Mssv's</a> Adrian Hon reckons that as soon as it becomes easy to &quot;rip&quot; (i.e. to download into digital form) books then they will be uploaded onto the web in increasingly large numbers. And then the publishing industry will be in the same dire situation as the music business. Which will be a scarey thought for many readers of <em>The Bookseller</em>.</p>
<p>But Adrian also understands that:</p>
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<p>... there are opportunities out there, for publishers who can make it more attractive to buy books than it is to pirate them. This will require a price that fairly reflects the reduction in printing and distribution costs, and a very good online store with useful features such as recommendation engines ...</p>
</blockquote>
<p>My feeling on this -- and I've commented saying so on the <a target="_blank" href="http://mssv.net/2007/07/23/the-death-of-book-publishers/">Mssv</a> thread -- is that whilst things are changing fast out there, for the forseeable future publishers still have a real role to play in filtering, organising and delivering value-added information, building their own and their authors' brands, and using their skill and expertise in the business of the provision of knowledge and entertainment to keep themselves well ahead of the game. There is a bewilderingly large amount of content out there; any intelligent publisher will be using the web right now to find out what books I need and getting information about them straight to me.</p>
<p>But if publishers don't change fast, they will wither and die. And the often risible current online presence of many publishers -- there are notable exceptions of course -- doesn't bode at all well for them.</p>
<p>The internet offers to publishers huge opportunities as well as many threats to the traditional way that they go about their business. The web may be a new frontier, but it has been around for long enough for publishers at least to have decent websites. Many still don't even have this basic and essential element of business in the 21st century. They need to get online now and improve their web presence as a matter of urgency.</p>
<p>How can they improve? Let's be practical. For starters, a publisher website should have a great search engine, intelligent recommendations, and bang up-to-date catalogue information. News pages are great -- if they are kept updated. Book detail pages should all have book cover graphics; additional content (index, introductions, afterwords) should be online as a matter of course (especially for backlist items). Detailed information about all authors and links to fan sites etc. should come next. An interesting blog would be nice; forums are possible. Social networking sites and Web 2.0 technologies offer still further chances to build a publisher's brand and their readership. The list could go on and on and on.</p>
<p>The death of publishers isn't going to happen immediately, but a generally bad online presence throughout the industry is contributing to its increased likelihood.</p>