Publishers, Update your Business Model!

Book publishers, I think your business model is expiring! If you don't update it now, you will suffer the same fate as the music industry: "cluelessness" of what to do to fight steeply declining revenues!

I am by no means an expert of the book publishing industry. My only qualification is being a huge buyer of books and being an aspiring author with a business model innovation book I am working on. The innovation behind the book: I am not alone in writing this book, but my co-author and I are working with another 250+ 470+ co-authors who paid to be part of the book writing. Oh, I almost forgot, we not working with a publisher... I never even submitted a manuscript to a publisher...

Here four substantial trends off the top of my head that will rock the book publishing industry and their business models (trends which you probably know, but are not taking seriously):

Distribution is a commodity and attention is scarce

Publishers and retailers used to controlled distribution. That gave them the power to promote authors and their books. With Amazon.com, self-publishing sites such as Lulu.com and the rise of e-books that power is gone because anybody can (print and) distribute a book. The name of the game is now capturing attention in a world of abundance and the absence of distribution scarcity. The publisher’s role of the gatekeeper is soon gone. We are entering the ultimate meritocracy. Books will be successful without a major publisher if they can capture the attention of potential readers through the mastery of the tools of the attention economy: blogs, communities, search engine optimization (SEO) and viral marketing. Readers will catapult a book to success if their attention can be captured. We have already seen this happen sporadically in the music industry.

New business and revenue models will dominate the landscape

Traditional revenue streams from selling books are prone to die. Learn from the music industry: Apple is now the dominant force in digital music and has replaced the incumbent players with a completely different business and revenue model. They sell music online, but they earn most from selling their iPod hardware. Or look towards the artist that give away their music and earn their revenues from increased concert sales or special edition albums. They use “free” as a way to capture attention and earn from new revenue streams.

Authors want to be liberated from the handcuffs of publishers

Very few authors get lucrative royalties or a substantial advance from their publishers. Royalties usually run around 5-10% of the book price. You have to sell VERY many books to live from it decently. In addition publishers don’t allow you to do most of the interesting stuff: experiment with new formats, revenue models and online communities. Hence, new authors have little interest to work with publishers and many of the most lucrative successful authors will run as soon as they have the courage: Paulo Coelho is famous for his stance against the publishing industry and their traditional methods.

New experimental formats will emerge

Books will be written by communities, they will come in versions (like software: cf. the unbook movement by my friend Dave Gray), they will have innovative intellectual copyrights (e.g. creative commons) and novels will have multiple endings. They will take advantage of multimedia by integrating online content and they will be delivered to digital readers like the Kindle. There are absolutely no limits to imagination of how the “books of the future” will look like. Sadly, publishers (with notable exceptions) lack the required imagination to exploit the new opportunity space.

UPDATE
: Richard Baraniuk's talk at TED on textbooks: Goodbye, textbooks; hello, open-source learning:
http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/richard_baraniuk_on_open_source_learning.html