Future Directions in Publishing: Learning to Surf the Next Wave

Date: Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Presentation by: Holly Brady
Forum arranged by: Ellen Perry and Karen Asbelle
Summary notes by: Micah Standley

An award-winning writer and editor with an expert understanding of the intersection between publishing and technology, Holly Brady spoke to the Bay Area Editors' Forum about the sea change in publishing and how editors are uniquely poised to ride the new wave. In place of the old model, a new publishing industry is emerging—and those editors who understand this fact, and who develop certain new skill sets, will be in an excellent position to ride this wave and reinvent themselves in these turbulent times.

She began the evening with a bold thesis statement: "The traditional publishing industry is collapsing. It is never coming back. It will never be the same. But out of this dark, dank scene, something new is growing." Brady then went on to describe the current state of affairs.

First, innovations in technology and the Internet are fundamentally changing traditional book publishing. This has already happened to the newspaper and magazine industries, with classified ads being ceded to websites like Craigslist, for example. Brady attributes this to the fact that publications like Encyclopedia Britannica have failed to retain their franchises and should have moved faster to acquire these sites.

Another fact of life today is that the Web has become a publishing platform and there is an explosion of creativity going on. "The barriers to publishing on the Web have dropped to near zero, and a person just needs a little bit of technological know-how—like setting up a blog—to be up and running," says Brady.

Marketing strategies in the publishing industry are also evolving. Viral marketing, social media, and blogging have all become very powerful ways to market books as well as book club sites and author reviews by actual readers (à la Amazon.com).

And perhaps the most crucial shift happening in the book publishing industry is the emerging economic models. To introduce this part of her discussion, Brady showed an image of the Espresso Book Machine®, which takes a digital manuscript and prints a library-quality paperback in minutes. The Espresso is a prime example of how ultra- short-run printing is changing the face of publishing. Previously, the publisher was the gatekeeper and shouldered the significant cost of printing a few thousand copies of an author's work. Now, an author can bypass the publisher entirely and print a few copies of the book at his or her own expense. And devices like the Kindle and iPad (Brady is firmly in the iPad camp) are also altering how publishers and authors are disseminating their work.

"The publishing industry is fundamentally changing, and it's as significant as the introduction of moveable type," says Brady. With the possibility of an author able to get a book produced without a publisher, where do editors fit in? Brady's message was simple: "If you're a writer, you can't put something out into the world without a naïve but intelligent mind, which is an editor—so editors are in a very good position." Her recommendations for navigating this changing seascape are as follows:

  • Learn the self-publishing model.
    The self-publishing industry is growing every year. In 2009, there were more than 700,000 titles published. Brady says that editors will be frequently asked how this system works, so it's a good idea to start learning it now. When the question of vanity publishing versus self-publishing was raised, she offered the following definitions: "A vanity publisher is publishing an author who can't find a traditional publisher. A self-publisher is publishing an author who doesn't want a traditional publisher."

  • Consider agenting.
    Brady isn't recommending becoming an agent, but she says that editors working with authors have the ability to take books that are successful to traditional publishers. "These publishers are so risk-averse right now, they are looking for books that have succeeded in the self-publishing model to reprint in the traditional model."

  • Hone your Web-editing skills.
    For those who have experienced it, editing for the Web is very different than editing for a traditional publication. This can mean writing (or editing) a headline that is search-engine-friendly, and learning how to think in layers and "chunk" content so ideas are in an information architecture that makes sense on the Web.

  • Consider developing some video skills.
    "Video, graphics, and text are merging," says Brady. She recommends learning more about video scripting so that you are better prepared to edit and write it.

  • Investigate online translation.
    The Web is spreading English around the globe and there are many international companies that are publishing in both their native language and in English. "When you see something translated in English, most of the time you know it needs to be edited," says Brady. "You don't need to know Polish or Russian to take something that's already been translated to the next step."

Holly Brady spent the last 16 years as director of Stanford Publishing Courses, where she oversaw courses for professional book and magazine publishing professionals and worked with some of the top editors and publishers in the country. She also served as executive editor for Stanford book projects. Previously, she spent 13 years in magazine publishing, covering the birth of the personal computer industry. She has won numerous writing and editing awards and has served as a judge for the National Magazine Awards. She has a strong interest in new media and the digital transformation of the publishing industry.


Micah Standley is the associate editor of artistic publications for San Francisco Opera. He has written and edited for projects ranging from music and opera to veterinary medicine and quilting. He is also a freelance musician.



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