Who Exactly Are the Middlemen in Publishing? Can They All Disappear?

There have been a number of thought-provoking articles lately on:

you take these opinions to their logical extreme, then eventually we’ll end up with
just the authors and their readers—without any publishers, agents, or
booksellers around to interfere or steal away profit.

Do these middlemen interfere? (And/or steal?)

Or do these middlemen provide a service, contribute value, and/or offer quality curation for particular audiences?

Certainly there are many types of middlemen. The question for me is: Which will survive and why? The ones who contribute the most value?

Also consider:

  • Do booksellers really want to take on the responsibilities of
    publishers—which involves fielding the needs, wants, and desires of
    thousands of authors? (And are authors ready to give up relationships
    with established and talented editors?)
  • Do authors really want to take on the
    responsibility of agents, which involves scrutinizing contracts and
    financial statements from publishers, and knowing the business so well
    you can smell when something’s wrong—and fight like a bulldog for the best outcome?

As far as the role of
booksellers, that seems a little more in question. Publishers already
have the means and ability to sell direct to readers. So do authors.
What qualities do booksellers need to cultivate to remain relevant in
their middleman position?

Consider this from the current issue
(July-August 2009) of Poets & Writers, where Jofie Ferrari-Adler speaks with Jonathan Galassi,
president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

Actually, at our sales conference … some of the salesmen were
saying that neighborhood bookstores are doing better in the economic
crisis because people are more interested in buying locally and
supporting small businesses. … It’s not just more, more, more. But I think all of the
traditional bookstore chains are in trouble. Amazon is very, very
effective. But I think Amazon is a potential … frenemy. It’s
not just interested in being a bookstore. So I think we have to sell
our own books to people. … bookstores are the weakest link in the chain. … There are always going to be bookstores, but I don’t think that’s
where the future of bookselling is.

As a final note, read this especially fine and
thought-provoking post by my colleague Guy Gonzalez, who discusses ways
in which gatekeepers (or curators of great content) will survive
alongside the crowds

What do you think? Post in the comments.

Photo credit: Dreamer 7112

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0 thoughts on “Who Exactly Are the Middlemen in Publishing? Can They All Disappear?

  1. Kimberly Davis

    This is a great roundup. Thank you. The one thing I’d like to add is that there is one party who seems to be getting MORE important, and that is the role of the publicist. It seems as if now, whether you go big or small press, publishers want you, the author, to be doing much more of your own publicity, either through social media, or through hiring a book publicist out of your own pocket, or our of your (usually small) advance. In today’s free-for-all climate, it seems like it’s the book publicists who are winning.

  2. Eoin Purcell

    Fascinating post, serves as a very nice round up of where the book value chain might get cut down to size.

    You could ask the question you ask of Booksellers of Amazon too and in many cases, Agents are serving that role for Publishers by providing the heavy lifting on the filtering end of things.

    Everybody keeps telling me that bookstores are the weakest link and it is tempting to agree but something (and it may be misplaced nostalgia or such other emotion) tells me that their role might persist in some form and not necessarily the reduced one we currently seem to be suggesting.


  3. Nordette Adams

    Intriguing. My first instinct is that with enough people talking about this shift, the idea become a self-fulfilling prophecy that authors don’t use traditional publishers. Perhaps we’ll be swept into a sea of self-published entrepreneur authors dotted with prestigious publisher islands accommodating critically-acclaimed writers only. The speculation may also be more Internet solves everything thinking. I’ll be reading Gonzalez’s thoughts.


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