Who Is Your Digital Publisher?

In the last few days several stories have reminded me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask all publishers.

I think it is a question that’s especially vital for small and medium publishers.

What’s more it’s one that acts as a good acid test of your digital strategy and where your thinking is on the future direction of publishing. And the question is:

Who Is Your Digital Publisher?

What were the stories? Well, lets start with the news that Taschen announced that it has appointed a digital publisher, move along a little to the news that Penguin’s new digital publisher is a former music industry professional and let’s round it off with the news that Canongate has lost their Digital Guru to Random House.

What these stories all have in common is that companies, large and small are making clever moves to grab the digital bull by the horns, moving away from just having the TECHNICAL CAPABILITY to produce and sell their books in digital formats towards putting someone in place with an editorial or creative vision for how to exploit the medium.

Most small companies can’t afford to put someone on this full-time, that much is probably a given (although if you can, then you should), but someone really should be devoting at least a third, if not half, of their time to the issue.

AND they need to be considering more than just contracts, conversion, distribution and price. That part of the job is now routine, essential and commonplace. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done or that your digital publisher shouldn’t be doing it, but it does mean that your digital publisher needs to be looking at more. At how to create value, draw and keep attention and how to drive revenue from digital publishing.

So tell me:
– Who is your digital publisher?
– What IS their role?
– What does this say about your strategy?

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2 thoughts on “Who Is Your Digital Publisher?

  1. Eoin,

    Your point is well taken, but I fear you’re positioned in an ideal world, which is to say one different than that which we occupy. Who are you thinking about at an overstretched smaller press that can suddenly devote “at least a third, if not half, of their time to the issue”? And more troubling for me is imagining what it was they were doing before that would somehow equip them to have “an editorial or creative vision for how to exploit the (digital) medium.”

    It’s very tough for even the largest publishers to attract staff with the necessary qualifications: there’s much more money (and equity via share options) to be made working at Amazon, Google or Apple than there is at any publisher. Mid- or small-size publishers can take someone with an editorial bent who doesn’t understand the technology, or someone with a technology bent who doesn’t understand creative. And said person will probably do more harm than good (sadly C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” is still operative today). If a publisher is lucky enough to have a diamond-in-the-rough on staff, he or she will soon be pulled away by a larger opportunity — either larger in scope or in cash compensation.

    I don’t have an easy answer other than my standard when stymied: “This is why God gave us consultants.”

    • Thad,

      I see your concerns and I’d share them largely.

      What I’d say is that while everything you’ve said is true and while there is certainly a role for consultants (after all, that’s much of what I do), publishers need to start thinking very deeply about their options.

      Most, if the are honest about their position will need to change radically over the next few years. In some sense, that’s mostly what my post was aimed at, getting publishers to think radically about where they are and what they MIGHT do to address it.
      If they find the resources inside to enable change, then excellent, but many won’t and will need to look outside, but even knowing that that’s necessary is a good place to be.

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