The world of books is witnessing a herculean power struggle.
The establishment—led by publishers and retailers—is fighting to maintain their grasp on the keys to the castle of all-things books. But the writing is on the wall: the stronger they squeeze their fists the more influence (and relevance) slips through their fingers.
Independent authors, self-publishing enterprises, freelance editors, and agents are all tugging together on the other side of that rope. These ranks of independents are gaining ground in the lands of writing quality, production value, book sales, and marketing opportunities. Their efforts are noteworthy, but it’d be false to praise them outright as the true game changers.
Another class of people is exerting even greater influence upon the power-shift.
Readers have always been important to the vitality of the book economy, but never more so than now. Advances in technology—hardware (e.g. Kindle), web services (a la GoodReads), and social fundraising (hat-tip Kickstarter)—are empowering readers in fundamentally new and profound ways.
These digitally-charged and socially-savvy readers are increasingly dictating which books gain attention, earn respect, spread like wildfire, and sell like hotcakes.
Seth Godin agrees, recently writing:
The single biggest change in book publishing is this: The industry was built around finding readers for its writers.
And new technologies and business models now mean that the most successful publishers and authors find writers for their readers instead.
Readers have always been respected. But looking back, it’s hard not to see a blatant contrast between reader respect then and now.
In any industry of any era, the finest vintage of respect is reserved for those that wield the most influence over sales. That used to be the publishers and agents of yesterday’s free market. But today’s freer market is shifting that power balance toward readers on a tectonic scale at a tsunami pace.
We may only be at the end of the first quarter. But the game’s momentum is clear: readers are the new gatekeepers of author attention, respect and success.
Winning Edits acknowledges and praises this empowering of the people. We have faith in the good tastes, sharp intellect and savvy social decisions of readers. At large, we proudly support the causes of a democratizing new book economy with the reader as its fulcrum.
It is with these opinions and principles that winning reader hearts and minds is the tip of our editing thrust and all that we do.
Is there a place in the future of books for traditional publishers and other seasoned members of the old order? I believe so, and hope so. But we’ll only co-exist in harmony and shared prosperity if we rally around the cause of respecting the reader first and foremost.
Readers are, after all, our common customers and ultimate employers. We work for them, and no other.