The new publishing age


To mark this week’s launch of Martinis, Masterclasses and Space Missions, an edited collection of writings and reflections from the Kingston Publishing blog, we’re reproducing the book’s Foreword here. Written by Publishing Talk’s Jon Reed, the piece reflects on the changing world of publishing, and the skills the industry needs for the future.

Image © Krystyna FitzGerald-Morris

When I started in publishing we communicated with authors by phone, fax and letter. We used an MS-DOS based operating system and few of us had email. I’m not that old – email and Windows had been invented by 1995 – we just lagged behind the modern world a bit.

Almost 20 years on and things have changed enormously. These days I spend much of my time helping authors and publishers use social media – something that didn’t exist a few years ago. Self-publishing is no longer a dirty word – it is the biggest trend in the industry. Ebooks are mainstream and outsell printed books.

In an age of blogs, Twitter and Facebook, when it could be argued that everyone is a publisher, we need to be able to answer some basic questions such as “What is a book?” and “What are publishers for?” The lines between editorial and marketing have blurred, as content becomes marketing and marketing requires content. When blogs become books (or ‘blooks’ – such as this one), and when online community builders publish products tailored to that community (as I try to do with Publishing Talk), the old model of ‘content first, audience second’ is turned on its head. Building communities around products is good. Building products around communities is better.

Yet while some publishers have innovated and adapted, many prefer to bury their heads in a book.  Technology businesses have moved in to fill the space they have failed to occupy: the biggest publishing companies are now Amazon, Google and Apple. Digital has overtaken print, and Amazon has taken over the world. Old business models and supply chains have been disrupted to the point where we need to rethink everything. All the old systems, structures and practices need overhauling – not for the future, but for today. Publishers need to innovate to maintain their value and relevance in a marketplace where readers download self-published Kindle books and authors question what their publisher is doing for its 90% of net receipts.

But while publishers may be in crisis, publishing is not. For those with the right mindset and the right set of skills, this is an excellent time to be in the business of publishing.

The industry’s need for skills in digital media, business innovation and online marketing has never been greater. This spirit of innovation, creativity and enterprise is something I have always found in Kingston University students, whether I’ve been presenting a Masterclass or supervising a project student. The topics in this collection, from brand building to self-publishing to business models, are subjects they are clearly engaged with. These debates are not only relevant to the development of the industry, they are essential to its survival.

Where will publishing be in the next 20 years? Your guess is as good as mine. But this book will help educate your guess by bringing you up to speed with current trends, offering some pointers to where we’re headed, and inspiring you to get involved and help create this industry’s future.

Jon Reed is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Talk  and is the author of Get Up to Speed with Online Marketing: How to use websites, blogs, social networking and much more (FT Prentice Hall, 2010). He is also a Kingston University Masterclass speaker and a student project supervisor.

Martinis, Masterclasses and Space Missions: New Frontiers in Contemporary Publishing is edited by Anna Faherty and published by Kingston University Press. You can find out more, and download a free sample, here.

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