A manifesto to reinvent the book marketplace

A manifesto to reinvent the book marketplace

If you haven't yet thought of "the power of mobile devices in billions of pockets," now might be a good moment. Ron Martinez, founder and chief of San Francisco-based Aerbook, suggests fighting democratisation with democratisation, when it comes to "an accidental monolith, say, in the U.S. Northwest." In his manifesto for the future of the book industry, he sees going beyond digital publishing for indies to "the power of the distributed marketplace...for the benefit of everyone in our community, not just the lucky few."—Porter Anderson

The story of tech innovation is the story of democratisation

The power and capabilities formerly held only by large companies and institutions are, through technology, distributed to everyone, at low cost, and frequently with even greater power and reach.

Take low-cost, high quality digital video plus YouTube, making it easy for anyone to not only create a show, but to broadcast it globally with the push of a button. Contrast that with the old school model of big studios and network television, with schedule slots for the lucky few.

Closer to home, ebooks, print-on-demand, and a range of self-publishing tools let anyone make his or her book available to a global audience. And online bookselling has broadened the potential readership for traditionally published books, and given new visibility to mid- and backlist titles.

But there’s a catch for the democratisation of book publishing: the global reach has been concentrated largely in the hands of a single company happy to capture customers with razor thin margins, customers it can direct to other, more profitable products.

So the big idea is simple

Make the power of the publishing supply chain, for both print and ebooks, available to anyone at the push of a button.

  • That means print warehousing and fulfillment, ebook delivery in formats for every device, a huge catalog, millions of items, easy inventory curation, and branded storefronts that can be embedded anywhere there’s an audience. Making books available for sale from an author, publisher, organisation, media company or indie brick-and-mortar store’s website, or on their Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Tumblr feed.
  • Make it something you can set up in minutes and embed anywhere with a line of code. Handle all the back-end, from payment collection, sales tax management, rich media presentation, marketing and social discovery tools. 
  • And deliver a catalog of millions of traditionally published titles from every house, large or small, alongside an ability for the indie or self-publisher to easily push their own books into that massive, pooled catalog so that anyone can feature the indie titles in their storefronts, too.

To work, keep the costs to a modest service or only a transaction fee charged when something is sold, for all of the above. In this way, keep the majority of book profits in the hands those who create, recommend, share, and love them, rather than siphoning them off to an almost accidental monolith in, say, the U.S. Northwest.

'The power of mobile devices in billions of pockets'

And I say “almost accidental monolith” because, in addition to hard work and great execution, successful first wave e-commerce companies had the benefit of an historical “winner take all” dynamic in earlier stages of the Internet’s development.

This centralising effect in technology-driven markets is now being upended by the power of mobile devices in billions of pockets, and vast social and interest networks. These changes have given rise to a more powerful market model: the distributed marketplace, and you’re seeing it everywhere, from Etsy shops, to Shopify indie eCommerce, even to services like Uber and others.

So yes, it’s time for this same powerful. marketplace model to come to the book industry, for the benefit of everyone in our community, not just the lucky few.

And everything needed to make it happen is available today.

This is another entry in our series of "Five-Minute Manifestos" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones revisited his call for the FutureBook community to reflect on five years of the digital dynamic, "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response has been robust, and we thank all our manifesto writers. See their articles here.

  • Please plan to join us on 4th December at The Mermaid in London for the fifth-anniversary FutureBook Conference
  • And bookings now are open for our inaugural Author Day (#AuthorDay) in central London, 30th November, the kick-off to a week of #FutureBook15 events.

As we add more in this series, our most recently published #FutureBook15 manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: JGroup