Despite the bell tolling on the publishing industry lately, the publishers who are doing well these days are those who have focus. Publishers who have a consistent message, who create content about specific things, seem not to be paddling the lifeboat with broad, generalized trade publishers. Niches, areas of concentration — call them what you will, but this is where the future of publishing lies. Just as cable TV brought about a revolution in video consumption — movies on this channel, comedy on this other one, news on this third one — digital distribution has brought about a revolution in publishing. It’s just a question of understanding where the ground is moving under your feet.
Digital tools — such as e-books, book trailers, widgets, what have you — are just that: tools. They are no substitution for product — nor will they sell a product that doesn’t deserve to be sold. Funneling money into “digital initiatives” is wasting money — unless those initiatives are clearly defined.
How to define them? How to read the tea leaves and figure out what initiatives actually make sense and which are a money pit?
The StartWithXML team has looked at XML itself for guidance. XML tools allow people — editors, authors, production teams — to “componentize,” to break content down into irreducible parts, to re-use those parts, to publish content more than once. If your book content is sufficiently tagged, you can re-use it early and often.
I think about one of my favorite authors, Wayne Dyer. He writes his books. From those books are generated calendars, one-a-day cards, daily journals, audiobooks, supplementary materials (such as meditations). If Hay House felt like it, they could send an email containing an inspirational quote to my inbox every morning. Dyer writes once. But Hay House publishes his stuff many times over, in many different formats. If he feels like doing more, they provide him with a platform for podcasts, conferences, interviews, and opportunities to preface or foreword other Hay House authors’ books.
Doing these sorts of tricks — and creating loads of interesting and compelling products almost as byproducts of your original content — is much easier and cost-effective if you’re already using XML. The “chunks” of content are pre-defined. You don’t have to make iterative runs at the original manuscript and figure out what can be re-used; you know from the get-go what you WILL re-use.
This is not anti-literary. It’s pro-keeping-your-publishing-house-in-business. And the sooner trade houses realize what their verticals actually are, and pursue them with the savage focus that the niche publishers do, the sooner everyone is happy: the consumer, who gets loads of content; the author, who gets loads of royalties; and the publisher, who is squeezing every last penny out of each word the author writes.