The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

The Future of Book Publishing from South by Southwest

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of people with Macbooks and iPhones migrate to Austin for the annual South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) festival.  Following up to last year’s trailblazing but ill-fated New Think for Old Publishers panel, this year’s A Brave New Future for Book Publishing brought together a stellar line up — and some of my favorite publishing bloggers — including Booksquare‘s @booksquare, HarperStudio‘s @debbiestier, The New Sleekness‘ @pablod, Vook‘s @vooktv and‘s @weegee.  Among other issues, they discussed the iPad (of course), ebook pricing issues and the importance of an author’s online platform (or “tribe”).

You can follow the original Twitter stream of the panel at #futurebook (although there were so many tweets flying back and forth, it left my head spinning).  For a more concise wrap up of the panel, I recommend Peter Miller’s post for the Los Angeles Times‘ book blog, Jacket Copy and GalleyCat‘s  compilation of some of the best tweets.

Since the future of publishing is a particular interest of mine (if you have a chance, check out some of the Future of Publishing Blogs on my blogroll) and since I must admit I enjoy naval gazing as much as the next New York City media type, I thought I would weigh in on one issue that always looms large: what is the role of the publishing house in a world in which self publishing platforms are ubiquitous and the Internet has turned the traditional retail model on its head?

I work for a large publishing house (“legacy publishing” as some call it), so don’t let it take you by surprise when I say that I believe we, i.e., publishing houses, do indeed play a vital role in today’s cultural marketplace.  Publishing isn’t perfect — even most in the industry aren’t shy about admitting that — but not acknowledging our role in bringing books to readers even in this 2.0 world is naive and short-sighted at best.  Here are a couple reasons why:


The Filter: It was interesting — and not a little amusing — to see people in the #futurebook Tweet stream clamoring for “slush pile software” that will trawl through writers’ submissions and pick out the best ones.  (Coincidentally — or maybe not — I received a press release yesterday about WeBOOK , a site that matches up writers and literary agents.)  There are a lot of would-be writers, some of whose writing could use, shall we say, a little work.  Until that slush-pile software is developed, it’s publishing houses (and literary agents) doing the filtering.

The Distributor: If you self publish a book and no one reads it, are you an author?  Publishing houses also help turn words on a page into a book in someone’s hands through advertising, marketing (bookstore events, media coverage, etc.) and sales (distribution to and placement in stores).  Granted, we’re not the only “book funneler” — the Internet being another — but we still get lots of books to lots of readers.


You get my point.  I think we’re important.  On the other hand, if we don’t acknowledge that readers today are looking for ebooks and vooks (video books) and POD (Print on Demand) and not, say, Gutenberg bibles, then we’re being naive and short-sighted.  The truth is that most publishing houses do indeed recognize the need to change and adapt.  The crucial question, though, that has yet to be answered, is that in this changing marketplace, how exactly is the role of a publishing house changing and how can that role(s) best be executed?  For the answer to that, you’ll have to, um, check back next year.


March 16, 2010 - Posted by | Miscellaneous |


  1. Great post Yen!

    Comment by Courtney | March 16, 2010 | Reply

  2. Yen – I watched with this with interest after what happened last year. An observation, a year ago one of my author clients had an e-reader. Now all but one does. I sent an advance copy for one of my clients to blurb another book upon request and he asked that it be sent in electronic form (after receiving the hard copy!) so that he could read it on his Kindle. I’ve got a client who doesn’t do book events unless the venue is a strong Tweeter. A year from now, I’ll look forward to your post! Your blog is always interesting! Julie

    Comment by Julie Schoerke | March 16, 2010 | Reply

    • It definitely is interesting to see how technology — and how readers — are changing!

      Comment by Yen | March 16, 2010 | Reply

  3. Actually, there are a buch of so-called slush filtering operations: WeBook, Urbis, CompletelyNovel, QuillP… WeBook’s been around for a few years, in fact…

    Comment by Richard Nash | March 16, 2010 | Reply

    • Ah — thanks for the tip. Any editors / agents out there use this software and if so, what do you think?

      Comment by Yen | March 16, 2010 | Reply

  4. Yen-

    Very good post. I think the two items you highlight are key, especially the first one.

    I believe that as we head into an ebook market that will have more titles than ever published, major houses will need to become a beacon of quality amidst the sea of options (as they are now–but a role that will become even more important). The problem is that many consumers don’t know one house from the next.

    Do you think that for publishing houses to effectively build such a brand that they must begin focusing on marketing themselves directly to consumers (instead of remaining primarily behind the scenes)?

    Hope to see you at SXSW next year!


    Comment by Rusty Shelton | March 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. It’s amazing how quickly the shifting of technology and consumer habits are altering how we consume books. The development of self-publishing books could be useful but like you said, if no one reads it, what’s the point. This goes for both physical printing and publishing online. The other problem is that with everyone just throwing their stories our there, one would have to sort through a lot of junk to find something decent. I never heard about these slush filtering programs and I wonder how they differentiate between good writing and bad. I’m sure some human input and interpretation is still needed.
    I definitely think the publisher is just as relevant in a world of YouTube and web based fame as it’s been in the past. They still work to ensure a level of quality is maintained and that the books are visible and easy to find.

    Comment by wiredthroughwords | March 21, 2010 | Reply

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  7. This is a passing wave. Part of the wave will keep going. Like the readers that are created with this wave. Hand held devices that allow you to do more than just read but access the internet. Authors have more and more access to get their books on the internet. Kindle conversion and other reader conversion will allow almost anyone to get their message online.

    Gotta love technology.

    Comment by Joe B | April 10, 2010 | Reply

  8. great post…i wait u to visit my blog..thanks

    Comment by Johan's Blog | April 13, 2010 | Reply

  9. your post very useful for me
    thanks and good jobs guys…

    Comment by jgush | July 9, 2010 | Reply

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