Everyone is in agreement: Book publishing is changing so rapidly, we might not recognize it 10 years from now. Today you might be on top of it all; but if you don't start thinking outside the proverbial box, tomorrow someone's going to ask where you got all your fossilized notions about what book publishing is.
But just what should we be doing today to make sure we're still employable in the future world of book publishing? Here to answer that question is Wiley VP and Publishing 2020 and Kindleville blogger Joe Wikert. I posed a few questions to him about the brave new world of publishing careers, and his responses are enlightening.
I'd love to get your insights on how all the new technology in publishing will affect the careers of individuals. What sorts of retooling should we be doing to make sure we're still relevant to the publishing industry of the future?
I think the most important thing we need to do in this (and probably any) industry is make a commitment to being lifelong learners. Technology is causing rapid change everywhere and if you're not keeping up with it, you're highly likely to fall behind. That's why every time I see a new and interesting applet, website, tool, device, etc., I try to test-drive it. I miss quite a few, but I also think I do a reasonably good job of staying on top of the important ones.
As far as our own industry is concerned, it's pretty clear that e-content is the future. E-books only represent a tiny fraction of any publisher's revenue base today, but that's likely to change--maybe not tomorrow or next year, but it will happen. (Btw, I'm still a big believer in print books...that's not going away in my lifetime, but e- is where it's at.)
With that in mind, I'm amazed to talk to so many people in our industry who have never touched a Kindle or Sony Reader, for example. Even though the Kindle is harder to find (because of Amazon's online-only distribution model), the Sony product isn't; just go to your local Borders or Target and check it out. I've had my Kindle for three months now and I can't tell you how much it's influenced my thinking, not just for the Kindle but for e-content in general.
Social networking is another critical area. Every publisher will want their content where communities are forming. What better way to accomplish that goal than to tap into social networks? You can't be overly obtrusive, of course, but I'm convinced we'll see all sorts of innovative ways to expose our content through this sort of platform.
Do you think book graphic designers should be learning skills for laying out/converting e-books, such as XML and whatever other technologies are being used?
Yes, I definitely think designers should be familiarizing themselves with the new challenges involved in e-devices. It's a totally new world and it introduces a new set of challenges from the print space. Every time I get a file/book/newspaper on my Kindle that looks like a simple port from print I just about want to scream! The tricky thing here is that we're working with rapidly moving targets. Right when you think you have all the angles figured for something like the Kindle or Sony Reader, boom, they'll probably release a new version or add new functionality. There again, staying on top of all the developments will be crucial.
What about editing--if the world moves to an e-book-heavy model, will editors need to adjust how they do their work?
The same goes for editors. This brings me back to the "content layering" drum I like to bang from time to time. It also applies to authors as well as editors. Just because a print product features a two-dimensional reading surface, why should we feel compelled to limit ourselves to that in the e-world? Simple hyperlinks are one thing and should be considered baby steps in this area. What I'm talking about is building a truly collapsible and expandable work.
Are you familiar with any of those book summary services out there? getAbstract is one and I believe another is called Executive Summaries. These guys take a 300-page book and boil it down to 4-5 pages. So in the e-world, what I'm describing is a product that could be read as a four- to five-page summary or a full-blown 300-page book. The reader gets to decide based on how much they want to drill down in each area. So I envision a getAbstract-like approach that allows me to click on any of the summary paragraphs and they expand into more in-depth coverage of that particular topic. Maybe there are only a few small pieces of the four- to five-page summary that I want more info on, so I expand there and cruise right through the rest of the summary. The key is I can shrink and expand as needed.
Authors and editors would have to learn how to write to this layering model I've described above, and that's no small task. But think about how much more usable the resulting product could be! Then again, I tend to get overly excited about this stuff...and I might be the only one!
How will acquisitions editors compete against people self-publishing their own e-books and selling them online?
We'll have to look at reinventing ourselves, don't you think? Author platform is such an asset to any great book these days and it doesn't matter whether it's self-published or done through a big publishing house. So where do we add value? Marketing and PR are two areas. Then there's the editorial/selection process. I'd like to think that editors still play an important role in finding the highest-potential projects, but there have been enough self-publishing hits to show that we don't catch everything. I think it will also be important for publishers to play a role in helping authors build their platforms. It should be a joint effort, not something an author should have to do on their own.