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Why Books are Good for Business: The New Publishing

The book business has been my life for the past 20-odd years, and a very good life it’s been too. I love reading novels, but what really floats my boat as a publisher is non-fiction, the alchemy that translates an idea into words and distributes it to the minds of others who then build on it and transform it in turn, creating a dynamic human kaleidoscope of connection, creativity, experience and inspiration.

One of the most popular reasons people reach for a book is to learn how to do something. It’s been the case for centuries, ever since Corax and Tisias started writing manuals on how to win at rhetoric in Ancient Greece, but the traditional non-fiction publishing model has its limitations. In Old Publishing terms, how-to books require a critical mass of potential readers prepared to pay a significant price for the book, since Old Publishers make their money exclusively from the sale of content.

The Long Tail

Traditionally, books that fit in the green area get published: those covering topics where the number of purchasers and/or the price they’re prepared to pay makes the project commercially feasible. See the long thin yellow bit? That long tail of niche interests? That’s where the New Publishing begins. The role of the New Publisher is to meet needs well beyond those served by Old Publishing: not just the needs of readers for niche areas of knowledge, but also the needs of experts for recognition. New Publishing surfs a new infrastructure that has driven costs so low that no niche is too small to be interesting.

What does that mean for you as a business owner? If you have something interesting to say and can say it well, even if your area of expertise appeals to a tiny fraction of Amazon’s user base, that’s still hundreds of thousands of potential customers who are in the market not only for your book, but potentially for your services too.

What does it mean for the publisher? It changes everything. Old Publishers look at a book proposal and ask themselves: what’s the commercial potential of this in the book supply chain? I look at an idea from a prospective client and ask myself: how can this book best serve the business of my client, and how can we make this as useful and visible as possible to the people who need it?

Old Publishing was predicated on friction and barriers to access: the New Publishing is all about encouraging sharing, engagement, ubiquity.

This is the under-appreciated benefit of the author-pays model, which used to be known sniffily as vanity publishing: if the author covers the cost of publishing, the publisher’s responsibility shifts from revenue creation and protection to an obligation first to ensure the content reflects well on the author, using old-school editorial and production skills, and then to to publish it as widely and openly as possible. This is familiar in academic publishing as Open Access, where funders and institutions pay for research outputs to be made available for the benefit of the public (or at least for the benefit of other scholars, since few others can make sense of scientific papers): it is currently under-utilised by businesses.

In this model – I call it position publishing, and it’s the basis on which I’ve built my new publishing list, Practical Inspiration – it’s all about publishing for impact not revenue: usually (though not always) pricing low, embracing every channel, even those with unproven business models. It means encouraging readers to share content, and crucially it means ensuring that the content is aligned with, supported by and supporting in its turn the broader content marketing strategy and the business aims of the author.

The results for businesses can be transformative – engaged, enthusiastic readers who become evangelical customers. And with each book that great human kaleidoscope of ideas and inspiration gets that little bit more colourful and interesting.

This entry was posted on 28 April 2014 at 16:31 and is filed under . You can leave a response here.

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