Filling a much needed void • 3 March 2007 • The SnowBlog
Filling a much needed void
We have a troubled relationship with middlemen. Estate agents, literary agents, newsagents. Wait, no, not newsagents. In fact look for a future post about how Snowbooks' secret weapon is one particular newsagent. But those others... We don't have a problem with all middlemen, but if you sit between the producer of something and the consumer of something and you don't retail it or distribute or warehouse it - well you'd better make sure you do something for your share of the proceeds. And you also better make sure that your share is in proportion to what you add not what you can get away with. I mention this for two reasons. One is - and historically people react badly to this statement - publishers are just middlemen too. We don't do anything, we just sort of coordinate activity, stump up a bit of cash and contribute some marketing. So we have no guaranteed place in the future of the book world. I know! A world with books but no publishers; it seems impossible. But it's a good reason not to get smug. Without us, there'd still be authors, printers, distributors, retailers, cover designers, proofreaders - oh, and readers - there'd just be no one to tell them all to do it. And saying 'Go!' is clearly not a proper job description. No, we need to 'continually reinvent ourselves' and 'look for ways to add value' and all those other bleurgh-making terms for good ideas. Plus I'd have to say most of the publishers we know aren't about to get complacent. We're not successful enough for that. But for a cautionary tale on what happens when the middlemen get too full of themselves read Guardian Unlimited: The Fat-Cat Jukebox. The music industry is ripe for a shake-up and they've done it to themselves. If they're not careful, they'll get 'disintermediated' and all that will be left is musicmakers and music-lovers and a big not-for-profit website that sits between the two, matching up tastes with tunes, and the world will be the better for it.
*Disintermediated is a jargon word I do like. In case you weren't huffing venture capital and turning your business into an e-business in the late Nineties, you might not know the term. It means 'to cut out the middleman'.