Author Lofts and Pyramids of Value

author-loftWhy do authors write?  They want a wide exposure for their ideas and stories.  Publishers have generally focused on playing the role of Darwinian gatekeeper for those ideas; determining which will live and die accoring to often opaque criteria.  This has been driven in part by the investment required to successfully produce and market a printed book in a few crowded and competitive channels. 

In an interview on The 25th StorySeth Godin chided publishers for misunderstanding their true role in the book industry.  He noted:

Publishing is far too focused on the pub day. The event of the publication. This is a tiny drip, perhaps the least important moment in a long timeline. As soon as publishers see themselves as marketers and agents and managers and developers of content, things change.

If they would help authors find that wider exposure for their ideas, and not be locked into the concept of printed books and sales in bookstores, they could leverage that intense desire and potentially be more profitable than they ever dreamed, he insists.  What would such a publishing model look like?  Here are some thoughts.

Author “lofts” – In a idea driven book industry, publishers provide online spaces where authors are encouraged to develop their content and build an audience around it.  As I have discussed before this could include, but not be limited to, blogging, building socials networs around content and carefully tracking the size, engagement and needs of that audience.  These lofts are essentially incubators for authors and could be dsigned to be self funding.  Not every author becomes published in the traditional sense, but they have a real opportunity to move their ideas forward.

Pyramids of values – Not every idea will (or should) become a printed book.  The ideas may be most effectively expressed in a blog, or best distributed in some digital form – e.g. widgets or e-books.  Or shared out on social networks.  Books are being delivered in chunks – via e-mail, on CD (ala the NetFlix model) or to iPhones.  Any of these idea distribution modalities can serve to create an audience. 

free-samples-of-foodFree (and sumptuous) samples – Just like fine cuisine, ideas should be sampled to be fully appreciated.  In the past, this has been limited to reviews, carefully controlled excerpts and author appearances.  However, the degree of sampling necessary to become a loyal member of the audience varies by individual.  This calls for broader and more flexible sampling tools – e.g. Google Book Search.  Google has settled the lawsuit with the AAP and the Authors Guild, opening the door to wider access to the content of books.  Despite the fears of the publishing industry, this will increase book sales, but it may reallocate the revenues.

new-star-formingAll of this is leading to a new concept of book.  It begins as a “digital haze” where consumers can sample content and publishers can see whether the idea should be promoted to a higher place on the value pyramid.  Some ideas will find their audience and may eventually form a (solid) core: a printed volume which represents to the consumer, author and publisher the highest expression of value.  Not every idea makes it all the way up this pyramid, but not every idea has to. 

As Godin points out, there are many ways to monetize ideas.  The key is to build an audience for those ideas by being creative in the way you develop, promote and manage them.

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