A recent article discusses the implications of yet another move by Amazon that angered the publishing industry when Wylie Agency signed a deal to sell digital versions of some of its best sellers exclusively to Amazon, a topic on which we touched in a post earlier this week. The article raises an important question:
If a literary agency can become a publisher, then what's to stop Amazon or Apple or Google, or any other "digital behemoth" from doing the same thing?
The answer to this is very little. Amazon is clearly moving toward a model in which they could oust publishers from the process; however, the impact to the industry would be enormous. Although the rise of the e-book has progressively made it easier for authors to self-publish or otherwise rely less upon publishers—and it is probable that Amazon and others will attempt to step into this domain in their stead—this can easily be argued as a detriment to the industry as a whole. What these “digital behemoths” do not and likely would not provide, at least to the same extent, is the collaborative, editorial process through which publishers nurture promising writers over time. Without this editorial process, the quality of both writers and consequently their works would decrease drastically over time—a fact that publishers often fail to elucidate. As most authors who have gone through this rigorous and collaborative process would attest, it has an enormous impact on the final work; without it, titles revered as ‘great’ or ‘timeless’ would be only ‘good’ or ‘alright’. Due to its strong position and the threat that Amazon poses to publishers, it seems important to analyze the value of this editorial process. The question becomes, how do we measure the value of an editor?
Earlier this month, IBM attempted to answer this. Although IBM conducted its study using marketing web-pages, the principal idea is certainly applicable. IBM ran an A/B test, where they presented unedited pages to some users and edited pages to the rest and tracked the clicks to desired links on the page over the course of a month. According to IBM:
“The mean difference in engagement was 30 percent across the set of pages. We got a 30 percent improvement on the desired call to action for the pages across the board.”
Although it is much more difficult to quantitatively analyze the value of the editorial process in the book industry, publishers should be contemplating how to do so, and they should contemplate how to present the pivotal part they play in the industry more prominently.
More information on IBM’s attempt to measure the value of editors can be found in a DigitalBook World article here.