People in the book business rarely agree on much, but no one disputes that the long-suffering industry is slogging through one of its worst periods ever. Editors are freezing their acquisition budgets; publishing houses are shrinking; booksellers are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. The proliferation of digital media that is arguably the biggest threat to traditional publishing also offers authors more opportunities than ever to distribute and promote their work. The catch: In order to do that effectively, authors increasingly must transcend their words and become brands.
I disagree with some of the things that the article lays out in terms of what “branding” means — I think that’s at least partly because the author didn’t really seem to know, either — but I agree that a successful author today does better by creating a kind of community around themselves and their work — once that community hits a certain tipping point, it grows on its own, creating a bigger and bigger audience. There are authors who can transcend or ignore that, but they are few and far between.
The main point of that article — or the part that caught my attention — is the way in which New Media (to borrow a term from Obama’s presidential campaign) is both a threat to traditional publishing and a chance for authors to reap benefits and enjoyment from their own work far more directly and understandably than they can via the impenetrable system currently in place.
I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the change in the way people are reading, accessing, and acquiring books today is a death-knell for the publishing industry, but it is a beach, and today’s (really, yesterday’s) publishers are — all of them — sea-dwelling mammals; very large sea-dwelling mammals. Their future survival necessitates being able to get up out of the water, onto the beach, and into the trees; some of these fat, slow bastards will not survive that evolutionary imperative.