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Traditional Publishing: Innovation At Glacial Speed

I’ve been attending the Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York this week and aside from the great parties and much needed carbo-loading on hot bread sticks at the lunch today, there was some genuinely fantastic information and really great conversations taking place.

If you weren’t able to attend the event and aren’t already following me on Twitter let’s connect, and I’ll keep you updated on a number of big publishing events throughout the year.

Anyhow, getting back to the great conversations, one that stood out in particular was a discussion surrounding the lack of innovation in traditional publishing. And while you all know I hate to bite the hand that feeds me (yeah right), it’s totally true.

Traditional publishing is very much like government, there’s a hierarchy, so many egos, and tons of red tape. The one thing that sets traditional publishing apart is that they won’t make a move without a guaranteed ROI. We’d be lucky if government was that particular but that’s a conversation for another blog…anyhow, even if a new idea does get a thumbs up from all the egos, in theory, and the red tape is cut, if research shows there’s even the slightest change it won’t instantly take off in the market, it’s never heard of again.

Think about it, how many new publishing startups are there?  I’m going to throw out an unscientific “tons”. There are those working in print, those focusing solely on eBooks, and those that can handle both – all with the click of your mouse, online, in an instant, you’re published, your marketing has started, and you’re connecting with fans on social media in less than 72 hours.

And how do they do it? How are these startups, many that are Internet geniuses with little to no book publishing experience, beating out the big guys, the suits that have been doing this for decades, the guys that OWN publishing?

That’s the interesting part, and what came up over and over again at the TOC conference is that it’s ironically the lack of knowledge that’s giving these startups their edge. Forget the hierarchy. Forget the decades of tradition and amassed egos, forget (gasp) the guaranteed massive payout. Instead, if you come up with a new, interesting, effective way to reach people and make things happen – jump on it – and give it a chance.

And authors are rightly discouraged about going the traditional route; I see it every day. Their fate is decided before they even pitch us, their genre, their timing, their platform, their sex appeal (their book’s at least), their relevance to popular culture, and so many other qualifications need to fall into place like the most complicated jigsaw puzzle you could ever imagine. Leaving millions of authors, dare I say, out in the cold?

So that’s where the startups come in. They’re innovative, they have numerous options, they’re open to working with other great industry specialists like freelance marketers, editors and web designers, and here’s the kicker – they’re affordable.

Publishing startups are giving authors something traditional publishers cannot – control. And in this day and age that control is becoming more and more appealing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we (traditional publishing) need to start thinking outside the box. And no, finally acknowledging the growing popularity of self-publishing doesn’t count. No gold star for that one.