The Market That Is Yours To Lose

March 17th, 2008 · 12 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I have a serious question for you. What if thousands of kids were reading and writing and nobody bothered to notice? I swear it’s happening. We are raising a nation of readers, writers, artists, and even activists. Better, we are raising a nation of communicators.

Now we have nurture and protect this new wonder.

I’m serious. All of you are, in some way or another, connected with the world of publishing. If you want to reach readers, you need to offer content that reaches these readers where they are — online. If you’re seeking writers and artists, what comes over the transom might seem like a good bet, until you realize there’s a generation for whom “snail mail” is the least efficient, most costly method of communication. And if you want to feel good about the generation who will be running the country when you’re old and feeble, check out political activity on Facebook.

It’s amazing and scary. A 2003 study noted that kids spend 16.7 hours a week online. If you’ve spent any time with a teenager recently — and if you don’t do this on a regular basis, I highly recommend a strong vodka drink beforehand — then you’re missing what’s really going on. Recently, I found myself in conversation with a teenage girl that ranged from a long discussion about the historical underpinnings of Jane Austen novels (including a tangent about why Northanger Abbey is funnier if you get the joke) to general classroom reading. In between, she was checking text messages, sending messages, updating her various profiles, and, well, feeding the dog.

In short, this was a kid who was engaged in reading, writing, and communicating on multiple levels.

Publishers and most reading researchers likely only focus on the Jane Austen aspect of her efforts (and not the part where she supplements our discussion and her classroom curriculum with online research and, perhaps, forum participation). This is a real shame because the alarmists are suggesting that we’re raising a nation of illiterates when the opposite might be happening.

Did you know that the best online resource for all things Jane Austen is not maintained by a publishing house nor academic facility? That a group of fans has built and maintained an incredible place where learning about Austen and her world is possible? That should these fans decide to let the domain expire, this resource could disappear?

Did you know that publishers are doing a lousy job at creating deep resources about books for today’s online generation? Sure, there are a few who really get the online thing, but most of you? Wow, where are the forums, the repositories of knowledge, the blogs and lists and resources? Do you realize that you are not owning the audience that could be yours?

Once upon a time, a publisher did only books (printed, bound, distributed books). It was a fine way to make a living. Books remain really essential to our human experience (but I think we can all foresee a time when physical books aren’t primary tools). Online reading, writing, and discussion, however, is ascending faster than anyone could imagine. Well, Terrance McKenna foresaw this when he developed Novelty Theory.

Bottom line is that the traditional publishing business doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to find its niche in the new media market. Today, today, today. Books are books, but there’s a whole bright and shiny universe of stuff that makes books even better. If you aren’t on the bus, well, this time there might not be another one coming.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

12 responses so far ↓

  • Janet Szabo // Mar 17, 2008 at 5:57 am

    There is an interesting thing happening in the knitting world: many of the newer designers are marketing online only. They have eschewed the need to market to those people who prefer NOT to get their patterns and information online or who don’t have computers. I think the same argument you are making regarding online distribution could be applied to that situation, as well. My question to those who are marketing online only—how many customers are you NOT reaching because you’re limiting your outreach to online customers only?

    It seems to me that a well-rounded marketing plan includes as many kinds of customers as possible–both online and off.

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  • Janet Benton // Mar 17, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Certainly there are interrelationships among various technologies, including print, that could be further exploited. Ah, but it seems that the teenager read Jane Austen in book form. Her methods echo my own ways of reading and communicating. I do research online several times a day at minimum and communicate online all day. But it seems to me that the wondrous pleasures of curling up with a novel ought to keep novels–in printed form–safe from obsolescence in perpetuity. (They may not stay safe for other reasons, however.) Yes, I know there is a gadget one can carry around and read on. Spend more time staring at a screen and hitting tiny keys with my carpal-tunnel-ized hands? I’d rather not.

  • Joe Wikert // Mar 18, 2008 at 9:54 am

    Well said, Kassia. As one of those publishers that you speak about in this post, I’m here to tell you that the future belongs to those who are willing to experiment…and experiment a *lot*. I’m the type of person who prefers a large number of small bets vs. going “all in” on one. As a result, the two imprints I manage (WROX and Sybex) have been involved in several interesting online experiments and product extensions over the years.

    WROX is an interesting study in particular. The core element of is the programmer-to-programmer forum where readers and other community members can ask and answer questions about programming topics. This forum has been around for many years now and is used by hundreds of thousands of community members every month.

    We also launched a new online initiative called WROX Blox where we offer smaller chunks of content (longer than a magazine article, shorter than a typical chapter) in downloadable PDF format. Also note that we use NO DRM on these products. Our customers don’t want DRM and so we’ve managed to avoid using it for WROX Blox.

    A few months ago WROX launched a wiki project where we put the entire contents of one of our books online for all to see and comment on. This is the first step towards launching other interesting wiki projects under the WROX umbrella, so stay tuned for more.

    I could go on and on about other projects we’ve launched or have in development, but I won’t bore you or your readers any further. I just wanted to stop by and say that we hear you loud and clear here at John Wiley & Sons!!

    Joe Wikert
    Publishing 2020 Blog (
    Kindleville Blog (

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 18, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Joe — talk about what you’re doing all you want. I think it’s terrific. Love the idea of using a wiki as a way of building and extending audience — it’s exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to owning the territory. It’s not enough to release books into the wild. Just as other services realize they must entice people to come and stay, so must publishers. It’s not so much by offering information products as it by offering information.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 18, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Janet, you’re so right about multi-pronged marketing. You don’t know where your audience is (or how they’re going to find you). It seems that these designers have made a conscious decision to limit their market.

  • Kassia Krozser // Mar 18, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Other Janet — while I empathize with your sentiment, I think we’re on the bleeding edge of a generational shift in how people relate to reading. I love books, but books aren’t always (shock!) the most convenient form for reading. Books, as we know them, aren’t going away for a good long time, but as long as the industry remains focused on the book as a fetish item, it is going to miss the chance to capture new readers in addition to readers who are seeking more diverse, richer experiences.

  • Joan Kelly // Mar 20, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    In addition to liking this post for what you have to say about marketing one’s writing, I also love that you put in a good word for young people! (Although I agree with the vodka recommendation in general, ahem.)

    It aggravates me to no end that people assume what’s happening online, in the places where lots of young people participate, is all “omg I had chicken 4 lunch and i posted nu pics in my profile! click! send!”

    I have “met” (online), and continue to have the pleasure of interacting with, some effing amazing young people who are doing all kinds of incredible things with writing and as readers. Including creating real community, in a world where people tend to be more and more isolated offline.

    Thanks again Kassia.

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  • Isabel Swift // Mar 24, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Very on target–though I continue to be surprised by the responses that seem to feel that people that are positive about technology must be negative about books. It is fallacious reasoning, Argumentum ad Ignorantum, I believe, a positing of “If this/Then that” that have nothing to do with each other.

    Delighting in expanding your enjoyment of your reading experience through the internet, networks, virtual communities doesn’t mean you don’t also enjoy curling up with a book. You can–and most do–enjoy both. And to engage readers, publishers need to be where the reader are.

  • Candy // Mar 25, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Brilliant! It’s always been too much of an easy thing to belittle the obsessions of our youngers. Authors of young adult books never had it so good – today’s young adult/teenage readers are more engaged than we oldies ever were. I blogged about this a couple of years ago. Thanks for the excellent post.