The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

The future of publishing a la Book Expo America

Being rather interested in both publishing and the future, I wanted to put together a post about the future of publishing.  The first panel I attended was Do Publishers Still Hold the Keys to the Kingdom?  A Panel of Authors Weigh In, held on Friday afternoon.  Moderator Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air, was joined by Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, author of the new book Free and the Long Tail, Lev Grossman (TIME senior book critic and author of the upcoming The Magicians) and Tom Standage (editor at The Economist and author of An Edible History of Humanity) as they discussed whether publishers are still necessary or whether authors could (or should) go it alone with self-publishing platforms.  Tweeps in the audience commented on the, well, lack of publishers on the panel.  Which sort of was a recurrent theme at the convention.

Jumping Off a Cliff: How Publishers Can Succeed Online, moderated by Publishers Weekly’s Andrew Albanese with Chris Anderson, Scribd cofounder Jared Friedman, and New York Times digital guru Nick Bilton, also lacked a publishing house presence.  (Thanks to PW for these recaps.)

And Thursday’s The Concierge and the Bouncer: The End of the Supply Chain and the Beginning of the True Book Culture panel featured Richard Nash, former Soft Skull publisher.  Hmm. 

But before the conspiracy theorists jump in, I’ll say that I helped organize the “Keys to the Kingdom” panel, so I can say firsthand just how tricky a situation this is.  When it comes to discussing the future of publishing, publishers will admit that we’re at a crossroads but are, understandably, reluctant to issue more detailed public proclamations.  It’s unfortunate because there are plenty of people interested in and knowledgeable about the publishing industry who would like to participate in these “future of publishing” discussions.  So how can we rectify (or at least amend) the situation?  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Tackle part of the problem first

On Saturday evening, for example, publishers Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks and Bob Miller of HarperStudio participated in the discussion about Stupid Things Publishers and Booksellers Do, moderated by Praveen Madan, co-owner of The Booksmith in San Francisco.  Carole Horne, general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge rounded out the panel and Carla Cohen from Politics & Prose in Washington, DC and others in the audience chimed in periodically.  Each panelist spoke about three things they feel should be changed about the book publishing industry — no one divulged the meaning of life, but those three things (actually, 12) provide a place to start figuring it out.

Or in the 7x20x21 panel presentation on Friday evening, seven people in the publishing industry spoke about issues that excited them.  Again, no one shared their secrets about how to save book publishing, but everyone was able to provide a few nuggets of inspiration.

2. Take the discussion online

If “future of publishing” issues don’t have much of a future in offline discussions, then (to state the obvious) let’s continue them online where they’ve been for a while.  There are a number of general interest publishing industry blogs like Booksquare, Follow the Reader and Galleycat where you can read about important publishing issues.  There are many more, some of which are listed on this Book Publicity Blog under “Future of Publishing Blogs” and “Publishing Blogs.”  (Check the blogroll on the right.)

3. Be patient

What can I say — Rome wasn’t built in a day.


June 1, 2009 - Posted by | Miscellaneous | ,


  1. […] I was glad to see Yen’s post about this today and even more excited to see some of the groups online that sh…. I’m familiar with all she mentioned and would only add a few of the discussions over at the […]

    Pingback by Books and Publishing, Birmingham :: » Where were the publishers? | June 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] now, as Yen Cheong of Penguin notes, the conversation is so critical, yet we’re not having it: When it comes to discussing the future of publishing, publishers […]

    Pingback by BEA 2009: A Bit of Deja Vu All Over Again | Booksquare | June 1, 2009 | Reply

  3. Have you seen a write up on the first panel anywhere? As a writer who decided to self-publish a work using an online platform, I would love to read it as part of a blog post that just your short summary has dancing on my head. Actually, this post has been rattling around in there for a while, on why I self-published a book I could well have published traditionally, with helpful blurbs and support from other traditionally published writers who failed to talk me out of it, and the perils such an undertaking. And I would love to hear the discussion, if any, on the thought of how the traditional publishing world views or reacts to this sort of competition.

    Comment by m | June 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. Reading the Twitter stream is a bit disconcerting, but I’m getting at least the gist. As someone with a self-published book, I think you hit the nail on the head for my topic with this tweet: yodiwan: What r keys to pub kingdom? Editing, marketing, sales. #pubkeys #bea09
    5 days ago from Tweetie · Reply · View Tweet

    Comment by m | June 3, 2009 | Reply

  5. @m you can check out many of the panels in audio form on BookExpoCast in the coming days as they upload them.

    Comment by Alice | June 3, 2009 | Reply

  6. […] the best comment of all came from Yen Cheong, on the Book Publicity Blog, “Be patient…Rome wasn’t built in a […]

    Pingback by Book Expo America ‘09: Only change is certain « Florida Writers Conference Blog | June 4, 2009 | Reply

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