When less is more

by Michael

I think we all probably suffer from information overload, and I know that those of us who work in publishing are often even more inundated. At this point, I’ve stopped adding to my RSS reader, and I’m actually taking off all the things I never get around to reading. And, though I love technology and all it affords us, I’m generally trying to pare down. So I was fascinated by this Ars Technica article I found this week. To sum up, Oxford University Press has created a scholarly, peer-reviewed search engine that allows users to find worthwhile articles on specific subjects. Now, instead of wading through pages and pages of Google results to find out what to read on, say, Menander of Athens, you can find out what the authorities think you need to know. And with the curators of each section listed, you can decide for yourself if they’re expert enough to trust.

And while that’s publishing-related enough to mention, it brought to mind some of the ongoing discussion about the future of trade publishing. There’s been talk lately that publishers are on the way out, as authors can now just publish directly through several ebook and POD options. But with statistics like the most recent ones from Bowker stating that over 1,000,000 titles were published last year, I believe publishers and editors become all the more necessary. No one has time to find what they want out of a million titles, so readers will expect someone to help direct them and narrow their choices. That job is going to fall to publishers, their imprints and their editors, all of whose names will be more important in the future as readers will expect that each name means something. It’s not just the amazing editorial, design, publicity and marketing that publishers bring to the table; it’s also the simple act of separating the wheat from the chaff. In a world of information overload, it’s hard to put a price on that service.

But am I just being a publishing Pollyanna? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

18 Responses to When less is more

  1. mcorriel says:

    I couldn't agree more. As a reviewer, whenever I see a self-published book come in I cringe. It's not because I'm predisposed to dismiss self-published books, but because self-published lack the editing and winnowing that happens with books that have been through the editing process. (Especially with regard to illustrations, for some reason.)

  2. MaryWitzl says:

    Certainly for teaching, I trust specific publishers (OUP is definitely one of them), and I also tend to prefer particular publishers when I'm reading for pleasure. There's an awful lot of chaff out there and it can look all too much like wheat when you're in a hurry.

  3. Christina Lee says:

    WOW, darn good point, Michael! And its true. It becomes ovrwhelming to weed through the titles, so I find myself listening to what others in publishing are saying/reading or clicking on an author interview or review before buying.

  4. Laura Pauling says:

    I don't think publishers or editors will go away any time soon. But I'm also equally sure that the rate of self publishing and niche publishers and e-publishing will increase too. There are so many different people that like to read different ways.

  5. Elizabeth Flora Ross says:

    Not only do I agree with you, I hope we are right! 😉

  6. Adventures in Children's Publishing says:

    No, you're not being a PP. When I buy a book published by an established house, I have some expectation of quality. Self-publishing proponents may argue that reader recommendations help narrow down the choices among self-published books, but in addition to the strengthening of a book that occurs during the editorial process, self-publishing also leaves out the fact-checking mechanisms. I believe this is important even in fiction, and especially so when it comes to writing for kids and teens. Fact-checking is a hole I'm not seeing addressed by any of the ebook or POD sites when it comes to self-published work.

  7. Mike Jastrzebski says:

    I agree but I also think the publishers have to do some experimenting with ebook pricing before they loose their edge. I know what my price limit is for e-books and it's not in line with the new agency pricing so I'm buying more self-published ebooks.

  8. H. Pinski says:

    Great post! There is also a downside to that narrowing. It is left to a few inside a publishing house to decide for the rest of us what books are worthy of the biggest chunk of the marketing cash. I also think of the many wonderful but quiet books that won’t see a second printing because sales were modest.

    That being said, even with a PR and marketing background I find the idea of promoting a self-pub title daunting and while writing is a solitary act, publishing a book is collaborative. As you so rightly pointed out, the skilled hand of an editor, brilliant cover art, and savvy marketing are worth their weight in publishing gold.

  9. Wendy Delfosse says:

    This is a great point. Even though music has been able to be purchased electronically for years few people have "made it big" without going through a traditional label still (at least to my knowledge.) I suspect like Mike said the publishing industry will have to change some to keep up with the new system (music certainly did) but in the end I don't think it will be doomsday.

  10. Jess says:


  11. DGLM says:

    Thanks for all the comments! Publishing will change and grow in the years to come, adapting to the changes in the marketplace — the industry doesn't have a choice. I have faith in this very resilient business!


  12. Kristin Laughtin says:

    I've been weeding my RSS feeds lately too. There are lots of blogs I'd like to read, or feel I should, but I only have so much time on my lunch break/when it's slow on the reference desk/after work, and lots of things to do.

    No. I'm in full agreement with you. If everyone can publish, it becomes that much harder to find the good books in the pile. Publishers will become the brands we trust and impart a sense of authority, quality, and prestige to the books they publish. If anything, they may become more noticeable to the average consumer as a result. Now we trust that most things in the bookstore met some sort of standard, without caring too much about who published them; if anyone can be in the bookstore, we'll actually start paying attention to the imprint as a way to weed through it all.

  13. Amber Keyser says:

    In the past, influential reviewers acted as gate-keepers who pointed us in the direction of the best books out there. As traditional news media evolves, those positions are being cut. Now we turn to the blogosphere for literary reviews. What does it mean that those people are doing this important service for free? I'm not discouraged just curious to see what happens.

  14. CoachMT says:

    Personally, I think people will begin to look for reviewers/bloggers that follow their tastes and take recommendations based on their opinions. At least when they are looking for something new. Many people have a stable of favorite authors and rarely stray from reading books from that group. All in all, it's a fascinating (if somewhat nervous) time to be in the business.

  15. Kelly says:

    No, Michael, you are not being a Pollyanna. The ones who are being Pollyannas are those who insist that we are embarking on some egalitarian golden age when all writers will be on a level playing field thanks to technology. The world has never worked that way and it never will.

  16. M. M. Justus says:

    I think there's room for librarians to have a much bigger role, frankly. And I'd rather have a librarian, who doesn't have a financial stake in what I read, help me find material I'd like to read than a publisher or agent.

  17. Clix says:

    I follow people with similar tastes/interests on Goodreads.

  18. franklycreative says:

    I agree with you and appreciate the post. Though I am yet unpublished, I know that I want the backing of a reputable publisher behind my books. The thought of self-publishing just feels WRONG. I'll keep working at my writing until I can gain the attention of a good publisher. That said, I think (in my mind) it shows the lack of determination/work in those who self-publish.

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