I was telling someone who’s been in publishing for many, many years about my coaching-led ‘publishing-as-a-service’ model at a launch party the other evening.
‘So you really get to understand the author’s business?’
‘And you actually read the book and make suggestions to make it better?’
‘Well, yes: I work with them right through planning and writing to make sure it’s going to achieve the outcomes they want.’
He gave a deep sigh. ‘This is what editors used to do.’
Which made me stop and think a bit. It’s a bit disconcerting to be told your brand new zeitgeisty model is actually just a throw-back to ye good olde days. But there’s some truth in it: back when books commanded relatively high prices, there were fewer of them and they weren’t competing against an infinite array of free content, editors probably were able to spend more time getting to know their books and their authors better.
Back then publishers controlled content distribution, content was scarce and readers paid for it. Now that content distribution is frictionless and decentralised, attention is the scarce commodity, which changes everything.
Back then, after all the long lunches and convivial discussion, it was at the end of the day the publisher who decided whether the book was to be published at all, and when, and how.
The PaaS model flips the locus of control: the author makes all the decisions over content, design, format, price, launch date, promotion, channels. I give information and advice to help them make the decisions that will serve them best, but ultimately the decisions are theirs.
They say free is a hard price to beat, but free can also be a high price to pay: we use free services every day of our lives, and we accept the costs - unwanted interface changes, intrusive advertising, a service that’s nearly but not quite what we want, the productisation of ourselves. Authors are increasingly choosing NOT to accept the loss of control that comes with traditional publishing and instead to source publishing services to suit their exact requirements not because they can’t find traditional publishing deals, but because for many getting the right deal is less about royalty rates these days, and more about who wears the crown.