Today is the first day of the IDPF conference, and I've found it both a puzzling and frustrating experience. I just got out of a session where three panelists ostensibly discussed how publishers can put readers first, but in reality they made this blogger wonder whether they actually saw the reader at all.
Richard Nash, Hugh McGuire, and Molly Barton spent 20 minutes discussing details like why the ebook market plateaued at 20%, why publishers should work with startups, and how publishers can better, and how reading is as convenient as publishers can make it.
I cannot speak for other attendees, but I came away from the session with the overwhelming feeling that the panelists didn't actually see readers or understand them. All of their statements were framed in terms of books and book reading, and not in terms of readers who read.
This lead to a few obvious oversights on their part.
For example, early in the session someone mentioned that the ebook market plateaued at 20% of the overall book market, when in the years before many had predicted that ebooks would reach half of the market.
Leaving aside the obvious issues with tracking sales (not the point I am raising), I was surprised when (as I recall) none of the panelists made the obvious leap from book sales to reading. They missed the connection that not all reading is done in books, nor are all books paid for.
The panelists failed to make the connection that people are reading stories at Wattpad, articles in Pocket, and getting their news in Flipboard. That is all reading, and to not mention it in a panel on readers is to miss half of the topic.
But don't worry, the panelists have a solution. They said that publishers need to work with startups, which have a strong focus on readers. While that is true, this blogger would remind you that publishing startups are focused on readers because publishers - as a broad rule of thumb - are often too conservative to work with startups on novel ideas (this is what I have heard from said startups, anyway).
I have to say that I agree with Andrew's pessimistic take on one of Richard Nash's suggestions:
Richard Nash @R_Nash predicting 20 self-monitored start-ups in publishing. Well I really doubt it
— Andrew Rhomberg (@arhomberg) May 27, 2015
All in all, folks, this was a frustrating panel - but still a useful one.
While none of the panelists convinced me during the session that they saw or understood readers, this session did remind me that some publishers do at least see readers (even if they don't put readers first).
I am talking about publishers like Tor, Baen Books, and Penguin Random House that have launched blogs slash communities where they can see readers as more than simply pocketbooks. Now, Macmillan's ebook prices clearly do not put the reader first, but they do support Tor.com. Similarly, Baen has Baen's Bar, and PRH has Suvudu.
Those are all sites which address readers as readers. They might not be perfect, and the publisher might not be seeing what they are looking at, but they are closer to the focus of this session than any of the panelists managed to get (during the session).
image by Kent Wang