Saturday, May 08, 2010

Further thinking through a model

I admit that I dismissed the Galleycat posting about Seth Godin's thoughts on publishing, and how publishers could do better. For one, aren't we all a little burned out on hearing everyone's opinion on this issue? When some people pipe up, like Richard Nash, I always listen, but many others are just chirping on about something that is ill-informed or so informed I can't follow it. (I fully recognize I'm just another commentator in this realm, btw.) I also got nervous when Godin started talking about the importance of "me" - in the royal sense, so to speak. He starts by talking about how consumers only care about their own interests, which is something I always find so disheartening.

But in my defense, I went back to this post and read the Q&A, and Godin is making some provocative comments that have stayed with me since I read them yesterday, popping back into my head while I'm running through the Common here in Boston, or as I stand in the shower.

Godin is talking about the need for publishers to change perspective, to stop pitching for bookstores and start pitching directly to consumers. This does make for a different way of presenting books and even subject areas. (This is particularly resonant for me, having just recently gone to our semi-annual sales conference to present our new books to our sales reps.) He says,

"...there's a huge opportunity here, because who knows better about ideas that matter than book editors? If a book editor stepped up and covered a micro industry, reported on important conversations and excerpted important books (from all publishers), then sure, maybe someone in that industry might want to read it.

And if you become the voice of that tribe, then yes, you will profit by selling more books, organizing conferences, etc. But as I said, this is a little like selling pork in the shtetl. Not an easy sale."

This is an intriguing proposition, along with other ideas that have been put out there by folks like Nash about publishing to niche readerships.

All this "change in perspective" is making me wonder if there would be room for such a role pertaining specifically to social justice - my general area of interest. If one were to set-up a non-profit agency and focused on writers - journalists, activists, even novelists - who write on social justice issues, and the agency became a kind of clearing house for this information, in article or book form, that agency could become an invaluable resource for a lot of individuals (reporters, activists in other areas looking for allies), organizations (looking for leadership or texts for motivation/education), and media venues (looking for new voices). I'm still wondering, though, how one makes money in such a model. Godin doesn't really address that. If it was non-profit, one could get grants, but keeping afloat with grants means constant treading - ie writing proposals and reports on an endless cycle. The idea of organizing a conference is useful to think through, as that could make money. (One could even use the successful, wildly (and from I hear, justifiably) popular Muse and the Marketplace, hosted by Boston-area non-profit writing center, Grub Street.)

Maybe I shouldn't be voicing my thoughts here, but I can't get too worried about someone stealing them. If they do steal this idea, then hey, some more voices for social justice will get out in the world. But for me, I'm still mulling over the possibilities, even as I continue to enjoy the great fortune of working with intelligent authors who have the skill and confidence to get their voice and their message heard.

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