Among the professional colleagues I have made in the publishing business, I hold few in higher esteem than the witty and thoughtful Joe Wikert, a sharp-as-a-tack publisher at J. Wiley. He even has a highly readable weblog. How cool is that?
This afternoon, he asked a very interesting question about whether there’s value in building a direct relationship between readers and publishers. As a widely published author and member of the publishing food chain, I can’t resist responding here on my own business blog.
The question is a very interesting one, but as an author and frequent book buyer, though, I have to say that I’m more interested in the author/reader relationship than any sort of publisher/reader relationship. A relationship between the publisher and reader seems like it’s skipping a rung on the publishing ladder, somehow, as if listeners want to have a relationship with a performance venue rather than performers, or cinophiles establish a relationship with a movie production or distribution company rather than a director or actor.
To illustrate what I mean, if you were to ask me about the last dozen excellent books I’ve read I can instantly tell you the name of the authors (indeed, I’m one of the few who always reads the ‘about the author’ page too) but the publisher? With precious few exceptions, I can’t remember any of ’em.
Now let’s spin this a bit differently. What if you asked the question: should a publisher enable its authors to establish an effective and personal relationship with the readers? And the logical adjunct, should a publisher enable authors to sell their books directly, with the publisher doing the necessary transaction processing, packaging and distribution, while also offering a better than-just-royalties commission to the author? You betcha.
In fact, one of my frustrations as an author is that when I build Web sites to help promote my books, like my recent tech title Wicked Cool Shell Scripts, I link to an Amazon affiliate purchase page rather than the publisher’s page. Why? Because if I sell a copy through Amazon, I get my royalty from the publisher and an additional small commission from Amazon for handing them the transaction. Further, Amazon offers free shipping, a strong brand identity, and a venue where reviews, positive and negative, can help buyers make a smart purchase decision.
So instead of trying to cut out the proverbial middleman, the author, Joe, I challenge Wiley to take the lead and create an environment that helps authors promote and sell their books online. And I’d sure love to see some of my other publishers move in this direction too, needless to say!