June 11, 2012

What's the Point of Publishers?

by Rob Eagar

Are publishers the new dinosaur destined for extinction? As Amazon grows and bookstores close, there's a growing sentiment in the new era of publishing that publishers are no longer relevant. E-books and e-readers are rapidly gaining sales over print books. Authors can self-publish their books and get digital distribution on their own. So, who needs a big legacy publisher or any other organization to "publish" their work? This sentiment is magnified as we see frustrated authors start to leave their legacy publisher and chart their own path. A greater sense of freedom and control is offered in this new world where the author becomes the new publisher.

However, this blissful utopian image that futurists predict forgets one major point...human nature. All authors come standard with a healthy dose of ego. Remember, it takes kahunas to tell the world, "I've written a book and you should read it." And, the ego will never disappear, no matter what new technology might bring. The inner influence of ego makes a critical impact upon the way an author chooses to make his or her work public. Thus, I suggest that the author ego may be the single biggest reason that publishers will continue to survive.

As an author and a marketing consultant who's coached over 400 authors at all levels of success, I've seen one desire remain constant. Almost every author loves having someone else value their work. Authors light up when someone else is willing to pay money, dote upon, handle boring details, or sing the praises of their book. This is where publishers make their stand for survival. When authors hear, "You're special and we'll help you," how can they resist?

The more success an author achieves, the stronger the ego's influence. For example, most of the recent successful self-published authors, such as Amanda Hocking, Paul Young, and Darcie Chan, don't stick with self-publishing. They jump ship to lucrative contracts and a team of helpers at a legacy publishing house. Even Amazon, the company responsible for making self-publishing popular, has created their own legacy publisher imprints. Why? Because authors will always make publishing decisions according to their ego. If you're skeptical, let me be more specific. Here's how the author / publisher dance works:

1. Authors want to get paid for their work. Publishers act like big literary banks, paying out money up-front to purchase a manuscript. Most authors can't resist someone offering a check for $25,000, $100,000, or more. And, most authors have no desire to become a business-person or a full-time entrepreneur. They simply want to write and enjoy the accolades. Why self-publish a book and try to sell each copy yourself, when you can get paid up-front with one fat check?

2. Authors hate dealing with the details. Publishers will do the dirty work. Creating a book involves boring stuff, such as editing, page layout, cover design, converting the manuscript to e-book format, sending sales information to retailers, setting up distribution accounts, managing payments, handling returns, etc. And, these steps don't include the all-important need for consistent marketing. How can the author ego rebuff a team of people who are willing to handle these aggravating details?

3. Authors want everyone to read their books. Publishers hold a key to access the masses. They can provide the inside track to national bookstore distribution and a coveted appearance on Good Morning America. While this aspect of publishing has largely become an empty promise, authors will still take the bait. A writer's ego can't resist telling friends, "My publisher is doing these great promotional activities for my new book." When those activities usually fail to occur, authors get mad and breakup with their publishers like pouty teenagers. But, the ego can't survive alone, and before long, they're flirting with each other again.

This love/hate relationship between authors and publishers has endured for over a century. Digital self-publishing and e-books represent wonderful new opportunities. But, the power of new technology is no match against the power of human nature. Therefore, publishers need not fear extinction. The literary ecosystem is bound by a mysterious force that too many people seem to forget. What's the point of publishers? To exist and thrive by keeping the author ego healthy and alive. 
Rob Eagar is a marketing consultant who provides authors, 
businesses, and non-profits with innovative strategies to 
spread their message like wildfire. His consulting firm, 
WildFire Marketing, is at When Rob
isn't consulting, you'll find him fly-fishing, flying down a rocky
trail on his mountain bike, or loudly playing his drums. However, 
his wife Ashley prefers that he join her to quietly paint, 
work in their garden, or watch Jane Austen movies. 
They reside in Atlanta, Georgia.

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