Who Needs Publishers?
British screenwriter and novelist Anthony Horowitz considers the role of publishers (essential? dispensable?) in a recent essay for the Guardian.
He begins by surveying the current publishing landscape and, well, you know how that story goes:
Everywhere, publishers are being squeezed out. In 2010 it was Andrew Wylie with his Odyssey Editions, "cutting publishing houses out of the future" as the Guardian put it. Then came Sonia Land selling 100 Catherine Cookson titles directly to Amazon, bypassing Transworld and Simon & Schuster. The Ian Fleming estate shafted – I'm sorry, I mean excluded – Penguin in promoting digital rights in Bond.
So if publishing houses aren't really necessary for distribution, what exactly do they provide? Horowitz asks. There's the promotion, the marketing, the editing, and the advance, but even more than that there's a sense of history and lineage that appeals to him:
It's been almost 600 years since Johannes Gutenberg produced the first printed books, and although Ars Minor, the excellent Latin primer by Aelius Donatus, has now dropped out of the bestseller lists, I like being part of that tradition. I don't like being what Apple calls "talent". I'm an author. And I write books, not "content".
In the end, Horowitz argues that while traditional publishers might feel squeezed by the digital revolution, the best bet is to embrace it:
I'd love, for example, to write a murder mystery where you could actually tap on a bit of dialogue you mistrusted and discover that the character was telling a lie. Where the reader actually had to become a detective and where the last chapter, the reveal, had to be earned. Or how about a book with different points of view, where you could choose which of the characters became the narrator? I believe someone is experimenting with added music and sound effects as part of the book. For me, the digital revolution offers fantastic opportunities – if you grab hold of them.