By Joanna Fletcher
The Internet has flattened the ivory tower of the publishing industry. The business model has changed radically now that anyone can produce a book, magazine or newsletter electronically with a minimal investment in supporting technology. Few may have the marketing prowess of a publisher, but they can leverage an existing connection to their target audience. An existing online business or promotional activities such as teaching or speaking will usually be sufficient to publicize their work, and print-on-demand operations have made distribution issues moot.
Magazines are facing direct competition on the Internet as more people learn how to produce quality copy and images, target them to a specific audience, and sell space to advertisers who want to reach their readers. Newsletters from an existing customer-retailer connection are crowding out more general publications. People are deciding what content to read rather than having a magazine editor do it for them, through site such as digg.com or StumbleUpon.com or even just a basic RSS feed. Here are some of the latest ideas that traditional publishers are using to keep their market share.
The human need for stories is the one constant that publishers can rely on — all they need to do is find a character that has “legs”, one that can run for a while on many different platforms. Properties from Thomas the Tank Engine to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider can be adapted into movies, books, games, graphic novels, fan fiction and a line of toys. This kind of media ubiquity has become essential rather than exceptional, as publishers seek to maximize their returns.
E-Books and E-Subscriptions
If it’s so simple to do it yourself, why use an e-publisher? Not everyone has the technical ability or desire to set up and run their own Web site to support an ezine or ebook. Writers who have already sold their work to traditional publishers may have problems with the security and ethics of e-books, although they do not retain the right to decide this indefinitely. Some of these authors, for example J.K. Rowling, are firmly opposed to offering their work digitally, even though sales of ebook readers like Amazon’s Kindle are increasing. Publishers are offering part of a book, magazine, newspaper or scientific paper for free on the Internet and hoping to lure online subscribers who want more than a taste.
Print as Art
One way publishers are attempting to maintain their market share is to make the print object — the book or magazine — desirable in itself, rather than focusing solely on the content. This means exclusive full-colour photographs, exquisite cover art, special papers and inks, limited print runs, and other tricks borrowed from the art world. Publishers will produce a variety of covers for a hot property hoping that die-hard fans will want to purchase every permutation. These publishers are recognizing that print is a fading medium, despite its many advantages over digital content and repositioning themselves as art dealers.
About the Author
Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked, and played in virtual space for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial flair is topped only by her tolerance for failure.