I have thought for many years that publishers were going to become more and more virtual. After all, why do all these publishers, that are essentially performing the same processes to bring their product to market spend all that money to do the same thing?
The consolidation in the Distribution marketplace is one big step in that direction. Now, I don't think its a futuristic question to ask, why does a publisher even need a back office? It seems that more and more publishers are signing on to the fact that they don't. They can simply hire one. And, in most cases its truly cheaper for them to do so.
So, what will publishers relinquish next? My guess is their production departments. Savvy distributors are already offering production services. And some courageous publishers are starting to use them.
The topic of production departments is a whole can of worms that I could write about for a long time... Maybe another time.
So, as publishers relinquish more and more of the daily activities, and as technology takes a bigger and bigger role in the process of consumers reading, the real question is - what is a publisher?
I guess in my mind, the only true core competencies that a publisher NEEDS are what we now call Editorial skills, and Market knowledge. A publisher needs to be able to bring fresh new products to a market that is willing to receive them. period. That takes finding and managing creative talent and understanding the market well enough to know how best to exploit those creative talents in the marketplace.
Once its clear what a publisher wants to bring to market and is willing to invest in the plan to make it happen, then all the other processes can be handled by business partners.
So, back to the first question. What will a publisher look like? I think the publisher of the future will have a very small staff of editors, (if there are multiple editors, then a managing editor is necessary) marketing minds, and business managers. The business managers will be the unsung heroes here, for it is they that will have to manage all the partnerships with service providers. They will also be the ones that make the numbers happen.
So, what of all the other services? Our friends the distributors will grow by offering more and more of these services. And, because they offer so many services that the publisher will need, why should they perform them only for a percentage of net sales?
I think the 'distribution things' will grow by having equity stakes in their Publishing partners.
That kind of leads us to the conclusion that the big publishing 'things' out there will really be what we now think of as the distribution companies. And as they grow, their power in the marketplace will grow as well. And, after a while, it may be the publishers that are being sought or jetisoned depending on how well they perform at the task of bringing creative talent to market.
Haven't we been around this horn once before?