What Can Publishers Do to Put Readers First? (Asked by People Who Don’t See Readers)

3741984838_c3cec9d3cb_bToday 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:

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

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Chris Meadows27 May, 2015

    I think your headline is missing a “Do”. 🙂

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 May, 2015

      So I did. Thanks.

  2. fjtorres27 May, 2015

    They keep wondering why (their) ebook sales “stalled out” at 20% all the while ignoring the obvious answer.
    Hint: two years ago, Amazon Publishing ebooks average around $7-8. Today they average $5. BAEN ebooks in the bundles peak out at $4.50. Indie ebooks average around $3.

    BPHs? No need to rehash that drama…

    1. Feda27 May, 2015

      Those bundles from Baen get people buying books they would normally not buy. I don’t think that that is reducing their overall revenue at all. I’ve never spent as much money on books as I did in the last couple of years since I started buying e-books.

  3. neuse river sailor27 May, 2015

    They could start out by not asking platitudinous questions like “what can publishers do to put readers first.” Readers don’t want to be put first, they want to be offered good books at reasonable prices. And this one expects them to be DRM-free.

    1. fjtorres27 May, 2015

      They’re not asking readers those questions.
      And it’s not publishers doing the asking. Not with any degree of seriousness.
      They really don’t want an honest answer; they just want to he seen as “doing something”.

      Kinda like paying editors way to reader events they require the authors to go…at their own expense. As if readers actually cared who edits their favorite author’s books.

      1. Nate Hoffelder27 May, 2015

        Pretty much.

  4. Bill Smith27 May, 2015

    Tor has a blog, but they just gutted their “community” with their recent redesign — no more forums. You can comment on individual stories, but you can no longer start topics …

    So back to Reddit’s scifi boards for open discussion and commentary.

    1. Nate Hoffelder27 May, 2015

      They took away the option for the user to start topics over two years ago. Or at least I did not have it at that time.

    2. Nate Hoffelder27 May, 2015

      And thanks for telling me about the redesign. It’s a huge improvement. The old layout was so irritating that I had been avoiding the site in favor of the RSS feed.

  5. Publishing in a Reader-Powered World | Digital Book World28 May, 2015

    […] Reading ? Book Buying (Ink, Bits & Pixels) One observer offers a caveat for publishers trying to rethink and strengthen their ties with readers: It might be a mistake to conflate readers with book customers. Publishers might do well to consider how platforms like Wattpad engage with readers and the reading experience outside a commercial setting. Related: Securing Customer Relationships in the Mobile Age […]


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