Person talking into two microphones.

Not Just Books: What Publishers Need To Do As The Reading Market Expands

In October, I attended the fourth iteration of “Books in Browsers”, a conference organized by Peter Brantley ( and Kat Meyer (Frankfurt Book Fair). The meeting is known for its future orientation and a program that ranges widely, well beyond the usual book conference fare.

Writing about the event mid-conference, I observed that “a range of speakers have touched upon the kinds of tools that might extend what we currently do in print.” Specifically calling out presentations made by Baldur Bjarnason and Anna von Veh, I went on to assert:

Bjarnason and von Veh touched upon an aspect of content creation and feedback that is increasingly supported in non-print environments: collaboration. Their talks, coupled with ones given by Peter Armstrong (Leanpub) and James Bridle (Booktwo), led me to ask what we need to do as an industry to grow and support a collaborative infrastructure.

Around the same time, Porter Anderson, preparing a report on Books in Browsers for Publishing Perspectives, asked if I thought the meeting offered any overarching themes. I did:

“New forms of writing and reading, new tools for creating and sharing and the growing dialogue between creators and consumers—most readily evident in fan fiction, but it won’t stop there—are all pushing us to develop an architecture of collaboration,” said O’Leary.

Helmut von Berg, planning Klopotek’s annual Publishers Forum in Berlin, followed this conversation as it took place online, then asked if I’d consider developing “architecture of collaboration” as a talk for the next meeting, planned for May 5 and 6. I agreed, ultimately working up a brief description of the idea for the conference website:

Physical supply chains promote efficiency: intermediaries aggregate supply and demand in ways that grow the market for providers and aggregators, though seldom in equal measure. The advent of digital media has afforded publishers an opportunity to embrace alternative packaging options, different business models and new discovery mechanisms, all of which could help publishers hedge against commodification in the face of aggregation.

Keeping up with these new options is a challenge. Writing platforms that started with the likes of Pandamian and Symtext have expanded to include Medium, Atavist, Wattpad and many others. Media that was once print, then eBooks, increasingly is web-based, where content creation is no longer tied to its ultimate presentation. Business models have expanded to include traditional as well as subscription, licensing, pay-as-you-go and other approaches to monetization. Discovery is tied at least in part to communities of readers that have been organized on platforms like Goodreads, Readmill and (once again) Wattpad.

In this environment, the market for reading may be expanding significantly, but the growth is taking place almost entirely outside the prevailing supply chain. To take advantage of this market growth, publishers need to develop an architecture of collaboration, exploring ways to engage with firm as well as readers and writers who can help them understand and offer new sources and uses of what was once just book content.

The talk is still several weeks off, but I think it can reflect the good that can come of a more collaborative approach. In my post last October, I asked “Can collaborative approaches help grow the size of the pie for reading?”, with the idea that a bigger pie could provide an incentive to try some new ideas.

There are other measures and other examples that will be included. If you have any you’d like to suggest, add a comment or write me an e-mail. It’s a start toward making the development of an architecture, a collaboration.

A related note: Porter Anderson announced last week that he is moving his work from Jane Friedman’s blog, where he has been a prolific guest for the last few years, to Thought Catalog. Anderson has been a regular reader of this blog, often weaving its content into broader reviews of trends and debates within publishing as a whole. Thought Catalog offers him access to a different and certainly wider audience, something his work certainly deserves. I’ll continue to follow him there as well as on, his own site.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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