Friday, May 16, 2008

The Hand of Darwin Touches Book Publishing

Sara Lloyd, part of the digital team at publisher Pan MacMillan, has posted a four-part series of interesting pieces here, here, here and here challenging book publishers to rethink not only their role in the new digital ecosystem, but the nature of the book as well. It's a good read, and certainly fits with our thinking here at Smashwords that the book publishing industry will face wrenching change in the next few years.

Lloyd notes how the Internet is disintermediating the distribution of books, potentially challenging one of the primary value propositions for the traditional print publisher. She also notes how consumers are increasingly becoming producers as well, much to the chagrin of the old guard publishers whose 19th century business models still adhere to the traditional author-agent-publisher-distributor-bookstore-consumer approach to book publishing.

At Smashwords, we think we're about to witness a slow and steady disintegration of the traditional book production and distribution supply chain. We will increasingly move to an author-consumer model of book production and marketing, where authors decide what's published and consumers decide what's worth reading. Our definition of "book" will also likely change, where we begin to think of books not as themed content sandwiched between paper but instead as packaged units of emotional and intellectual experience.

Does this mean the traditional print book publishers as we know them today will fall by the wayside? Not necessarily. In all good Darwinian battles, those who create value will survive and thrive.

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