Saturday, August 02, 2008

Goodbye, Book Business; Hello, Reader Business

Michael Cader--who created Publishers Marketplace--is one of the half dozen gurus whose opinions on publishing I trust. Whenever the industry gets together for conferences, he's often sought as a speaker. He's the reason I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace here.

I just finished reading Friday's PM in which Cader addressed the issue of a dying breed: the professional book reviewer. I wasn't as interested in the state of book reviewing as I was in Cader's thumbnail description of the industry at large. Below is an excerpt of his comments:
. . . publishers traditionally put most of their efforts into finding and working with influencers who can "move the needle" in a big way . . . But our culture presents a haystack of thousands of little needles now. There's no either/or choice or judgment to make, because publishers have no say in the process (aside from trying to participate or not). It's all part of the larger shift that the industry is just beginning to reckon with in all kinds of ways that go way behind [Note by mar: beyond?] review/blog/zine questions.

It's the transition from a business in which the essence of publishing is dealing with a small set of intermediaries, gatekeepers and big-needle movers (buyers for stores and wholesalers; media bookers and book review editors) to dealing with consumers and fans (and a far larger set on online community intermediaries), and their organizations and platforms, driven by passion and fully subjective opinion and recommendation.

In other words, it's the change from "the book business" (in which you tell) to the "reader business" (in which you listen and ask and respond).

Cader is describing what I have been calling the fragmentation of the publishing industry.

The "old" mindset of publishing had information traveling from the top down with publishers (and the media conglomerates that owned them) telling readers what to read and dictating choice by selecting which authors to publish. Since they were the only game in town, their decisions were all that mattered.

The "new" paradigm is about the niche communities that spring up and flourish in the virtual world.

I know when I go looking for a new author to read, I don't seek out professional reviews. I go to the websites of readers and writers I trust and see what they're reading.

That same dynamic is being repeated over and over across the Internet. Information is now traveling "bottom up" rather than in the old "top down" model.

Is this new paradigm chaotic and messy and disorganized? Of course it is. But there are players who intuitively understand and are working it. Look at Amazon's feature "Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought." They've created social networking sites inside the larger Amazon website so that readers can talk to each other.

In May, 2007, a study titled "The Credibility Divide: Reader Trust of Online Newspapers and Blogs" was presented at the International Communication Association in San Francisco. The researchers compared the credibility of three different online news sources: an online newspaper, the blog of a newspaper journalist and the blog of a citizen journalist. All reported the exact same story.

The results were reported in the study's abstract:
Results showed that media use, dependency [on that medium], and political interest were not significant predictors of credibility, but the nonjournalist blog (the citizen journalist) was found significantly more credible than the other 2 mediums. The significance might be explained by the nonjournalist’s blog unattachment to an institution.
When the study participants were asked to judge the credibility of the three different online news sources, 38% reported they found the citizen blogger to be the most credible. This compared to the 34% who found the online newspaper to be the most credible and the 28% who found the online journalist to be the most credible.

The suggestion was made that individuals might be seen as more credible than the institutional newspaper or the newspaper's journalists who "seem to be part of the institutional collective."

The study also reminded us of the results of a previous study that has been in the news recently: "readers are less likely to pay attention to information that they do not believe . . . That suggests that credibility is one key [to] reaching readers, particularly in the ever-growing competitive online media environment."

Whatever the dynamic, it's clear that "old" media is going to need to change its approach to appeal to readers of the "new" media.

It's a whole 'nuther world out there, kiddies.


Dan said...

I think the post is interesting, but I'm still partial to books and newspaper articles that editors have green-lit.

Maya Reynolds said...

Thanks for commenting, Dan.

On the flip side, I dropped my subscription to the Dallas Morning News over two years ago because I got tired of what I saw as their specific political agenda. I expect to see bias on the op/ed page; not in the rest of the paper.

Dan said...

Fair enough. I guess I should have mentioned I don't pay for news (unless you count my cable bill for the Daily Show) and use my library card pretty religiously.

Maya Reynolds said...

Or your Internet service {grin}

Thanks for posting.