Pause for Thought

In this week’s Writing on the Ether, Porter Anderson looked at “adjacent marketing”, through the lens of recent commentaries from Peter McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin. The nub of the problem, as Porter has been wryly prodding The Industry! The Industry! to recognise ever since he sidled into the collective publishing industry psyche a couple of years ago, is that what passes for marketing in the “legacy” publishing industry bears no relation to consumer marketing that would be recognised in many other consumer goods sectors.

Those of us who have worked in the publishing supply chain have been banging on about this problem for some time now. Here’s what I wrote in January 2012:

Something I’ve been talking about here for years is the fact that most publishers know almost nothing about customer or consumer transactions because they’ve been outsourcing them to intermediaries for decades. As an industry we seem to really like to put people and things into silos. And that’s not the way the world is moving. Empowered, informed consumers expect instant answers to all their needs and questions, so woe betide us if we haven’t anticipated them correctly. Publishers with diversifying distribution mechanisms for their content need to have a much more detailed understanding of their individual consumers: who, when, what and how.

Or in June 2010:

Distribution is driven by the customer’s needs, and a perception of the book as a consumer item. Yes, in my private life I may also consider individual books to be desirable to own and pleasurable to read. But professionally I know that publishers have to be more aware than ever of precisely what value they add to the experience(s) of accessing content that the consumer wants – and able to deliver those experiences in multiple ways – depending upon the consumer’s preference and choice.

But this post isn’t sour grapes or “I told you so” as I hear the debate finally grinding around to a perspective I understand . It’s more that Porter’s sardonic take on what McCarthy and Shatzkin are saying (to people in the Industry) is in some measure a glimpse into why in recent months I’ve been quiet on this blog.

Earlier this year, a publisher working on an app project I had a small involvement with made a throwaway remark about his suspicion of the whole industry sub-sector that’s grown up around publishing people talking to other publishing people about publishing. It was in no way intended as a personal criticism, but it did stop me in my tracks. Because I’m a small part of that self-reflective ecosystem (and here I am doing it again).

Then, in April this year, Brian O’Leary wrote about a post by Craig Mod referencing the implications work not being available online. Brian extrapolated from Mod’s remarks to posit the question:

I wonder if the stronger construction might be, “To be offline means in part to not exist.” That gets us closer to the choices made in going or staying offline.

So Q2 2013 found me questioning my self-appointment to “Industry Pundit” status, and where the balance of my online/offline existence lay. Simultaneously Off the Page was getting busier, so I took the decision not to post for a while, either here or microposts on Twitter. To an extent it’s a decision made for you when the bulk of your work is covered by NDAs.

Deciding to shut up and immerse myself in the work I’m doing with and for a variety of non-fiction publishers has been a great experience, because many of the publishers I’m working with operate in tight and clearly defined verticals, and rather than looking at what The Industry! The Industry! tells me about those verticals, I’ve begun exploring them myself, helping to find ways of reaching out directly to people who want what we’re publishing, and creating relationships that draw their interests into our product development cycle.

As a result the list of people I’m following on Twitter is now peppered with educationalists, teachers, innovators, technologists, social science professionals, sustainability and environmental bloggers and academics, book lovers and literature specialists. I’m loving the resulting diversification in my daily diet of information snips.

I’ve written before about my antipathy to lists in all their guises, but I’ve recently concluded that the only way to sort the apparent randomness that has taken over my Twitter feed is to create lists to focus this input into appropriate groupings. That’s a work in progress (thanks go to @pressfuturist for his help on how Twitter lists work). So if your Twitter feed tells you I’ve added you to a list, it’s because I’m looking at you in a new light. And if you’re in the list called The Industry! The Industry!, blame Porter. (And Walt Whitman.)

My pause for thought has been enlightening, has permitted me the space to reassess how I collect and use information online, and contrary to Brian O’Leary’s implied concern that a life offline may mean partly to cease to exist – the silence has helped me figure out how I want to exist to the full online and offline. Which can’t be a bad thing.

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One Response to Pause for Thought

  1. The use of “online” in my post might be better considered as “shared” (this is the word I use in the conclusion). I don’t think everything needs to be online or shared, but a decision to not share limits both the individual and the world in which she lives. The “Bladerunner” example is a case in point – experiences that only the replicant has had, lost with him when his life ends (by design, in this case).

    The post actually was written in April 2012, and my thinking has probably simplified since then. I like the title, and I like the passage on which it is based, but I might be more direct now: We change the world by engaging with it. I agree that there is a culture of publishing people talking to publishing people about publishing, and I think that you’re not part of it. But you do want to change it, and silence won’t help make that happen.

    If I stop writing and engaging, it’s not because I think that’s a better way to change the world. It’s because I think the publishing world isn’t worth trying to change any more. There’s a credible argument to be made there, too.

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