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Jan 28, 2011: From publisher of books to purveyor of expertise

Here are the slides for a talk I'll be giving at O'Reilly's Tools of Change for Publishing conference on February 15, here in NYC. John Oakes of OR Books and I are both talking about new business models in publishing. Well, in my case, I'm suggesting that it's now impossible for many publishers to even have a business model.

I start with the question actually posed to me by one of Rosenfeld Media's recently-signed authors (see if you can guess who from the photo): "why can't you tell me what I'll make based on sales?". After some panicked head-scratching, I realized that it's really, really hard to even say what a "sale" is, when we're dealing with everything from $199 purchases for our entire catalog to micropayments for book excerpts. Really, we're dealing with an almost limitless number of business models, all at the same time, and all changing every fifteen minutes.

I then move on to suggesting that the only model for publishers that makes much sense is (shudder) faith-based: faith in knowing one's audience, and faith in knowing the expertise that will benefit that audience. Those things are not and can never be commodified. The publisher's job is to, from here on out, look for opportunities to package that expertise for the audience in all ways that make sense: not just books, but presentations, workshops, webinars, instructional videos, consulting... you name it. In effect, the future isn't in publishing books, but purveying expertise.

And there you have it; now you don't need to look at the slides. But here they are, nonetheless:

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Comment: Andy Polaine (Feb 2, 2011)

Ah, well, that's because you're actually selling a service and not products anymore Lou.

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