The Publishing Ecosystem – Rogues and Benefactors

The community surrounding most publishers consists of an orbiting constellation of writers, translators, illustrators, publicists, agents, reviewers and other influential folk who all depend on the success of the publisher they surround. Publishers are a natural hub in their ecosystem, and because of their privileged position, they can enhance or diminish the success of their community members.

Publishers in turn are the stars wheeling about the big distributors and retailers, who form the hubs of the big galaxy accessing consumer demand. Distributors and retailers can therefore enhance or diminish the success of their community members.

Hubs and Spokes

The hub of a taro leaf ecosystem

Over the long term, business ecosystem hubs that enhance their community grow faster and more steadily than ecosystem hubs that weaken their orbiting members (Iansiti and Levien).

To illustrate how this happens, consider a retailer who goes to great lengths to share sales information, trends and demand forecasts with the publishers who supply it with stock. The publishers getting excellent information from their retailer are able to tune publicity campaigns and pricing, plan marketing efforts, acquire titles in tune with the “zeitgeist” and generally do a good job of surfing the consumer waves. This keeps the publishers healthy, and also helps the publishers keep their own communities healthy – able to pay advances for new work and support writers to keep writing.

Sometimes, a hub will “go rogue” – an executive team decides that they can leverage the privileged information they gain from being the hub of an ecosystem, and use it for their own personal gain at the expense of the members of their ecosystem. The most famous example of a rogue hub is Enron. Not only did Enron virtually wipe out the community surrounding them, their gaming of supply contracts caused consumers in the affected states to pay 70% more in electricity charges. Rogue hubs nearly always use privileged information about some aspect of the ecosystem. Several large US banks spring to mind as recent examples.

The opposite of a rogue is a “benefactor” hub that knows how important the information it collects is, and still decides to share that information for the betterment of its entire community. One example of such a hub is Walmart, which provides tremendous value to all of its suppliers through the liberal sharing of key sales data to enable better forecasting.

The Australian Publisher’s Association stands out as a benefactor hub through its provision of information systems and standards that benefit the whole Australian community of retailers, distributors and publishers. No other player in the local industry was providing these services, so the APA stepped into the breach and provided what was necessary for the health of its community. It is a nice parable about value sharing and creation being ultimately about people who get together and make decisions for the good of everyone, despite being part of a capitalist system.

A few moments thought about what happens when publishers attempt to become retailers, and retailers attempt to become publishers provides food for thought about the conflicts faced by the executive decision makers within such conglomerates;

“Let’s give all our sales information to our competing publishers to help them grow and be successful”. Yeah right!

It is easy to see how even good people, thrown into such situations, would struggle to reconcile the job demands with building a healthy community. These hybrid industry configurations are unlikely to be successful in the long term because they are less likely to create healthy communities.

My next few articles will cover some other interesting ecosystem inhabitants; leeches, sharks, and alien invaders, their impact on communities and how communities can guide, protect and repair themselves. Any suggestions from readers as to organisations that might fill these roles will be amusing for everyone. I will not (of course) be able to comment on your suggestions, but I will provide a checklist on our facebook page  for people to match  observed behaviour with roles. “Like” our page and you will see the checklist when it comes through.

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About Lisa Buchan

Lisa Buchan is the Founder of Prato Consulting (and its imprint Prato Publishing), a company dedicated to supporting book people on the journey to a new era. If you have innovative new global services for publishers, agents or writers, Lisa wants to know!
This entry was posted in Ideas from around the world, Industry Trends, Publishing Insights. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Publishing Ecosystem – Rogues and Benefactors

  1. Lisa, I found this quite helpful and tweeted a link to it. But when I went to your Facebook page to “Like” it, I was trapped in a bad app that wouldn’t let me skip it or get free. Just had to close that tab on my browser. You might want to change that.

  2. Brian Clegg says:

    Interesting article, though I’m not sure it’s the right model – as an author, I can’t help but feel the creative relationship is the wrong way round between a star (publisher) and a planet (author). I also suspect this model will underestimate what Amazon can do. But great food for thought!

  3. Kinda ignores both the writer and the reader. And the Australian protected market is anti-both. Exceptionally high prices for mundane books, stores that apply multiple price stickers to books and charge the highest they can see, publishers who have little interest in authors…
    Hopefully the ebook future will give opportunities to both readers – lower prices and writers- higher royalties.

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