In terms of challenges facing the publishing industry, [Penguin Random House CEO Markus] Dohle said that the “true challenge at the core of the digital transition” is not about format but about publishers needing to “reinvent” how they advertise and publicize new books: they have to establish “direct connections” to readers and to find ways to generate demand for books “directly and at scale.” Noting that millions of titles, including new, used and self-published books across all formats, are available online, Dohle described both consumers and publishers as “drowning in titles.” And while it is more difficult now to get noticed, publishers can use their commitment to “quality in each product” as a way to be seen through the “deluge of new and often self-published titles.”

Shelf Awareness report from FBF17.

One of the things most people outside of publishing struggle with is the notion that publishers are not, traditionally, in the business of marketing books to readers.1 Instead, publishers market books to booksellers—who, in this instance, also include things like libraries—who in turn market to readers.

Except, what Dohle is talking about here is shifting that focus. He’s not saying publishers should cut out booksellers, but rather they shouldn’t focus only on booksellers, and instead should start developing more B2C capability. This isn’t new—being digital releases, PRH primarily marketed Liesmith and Stormbringer to consumers—so much as it’s PRH re-committing to the strategy they’ve been developing over the last few years.

For readers, what does this all mean? Arguably not much, except to maybe expect more and more publishing imprints to develop their user-facing brands (see, for example, Tor, which already does this successfully in the SFF community). For authors, it possibly represents a lessening of the stranglehold the big book buyers have, particularly in the US market. So there’s hopefully less of the “we can’t sell this because bookstores won’t know where to shelve it” nonsense, as well as those weird incidents of every book in a particular genre looking the same (see the section on RJ Anderson’s GoH speech) because store buyers are convinced only one cover design “works”.

  1. Which is also, incidentally, why pretty much all online criticism of tradpub marketing is bullshit. Which isn’t to say tradpub marketing is universally brilliant… but if the criticism boils down to “the publisher didn’t market my book to readers!” then… yes. Duh. That’s not what they’re there for. Or, well. Weren’t… []