There have been a number of thought-provoking articles lately on:
- whether publishers can be eliminated as the "middlemen" between authors and booksellers/readers (read
this Fast Company article postulating a future where authors make deals
directly with Amazon; and read this TOC post on the future role of
- whether agents can be eliminated as the "middlemen" between authors and publishers (read this Seth Godin post about agents)
- whether booksellers can be eliminated as the "middlemen" between authors/publishers and readers (read this about the future of bookselling from an indie bookseller in NYC)
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?
- 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.
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