Amongst all the prognosticating about the future of publishing, Sara Lloyd's manifesto is one of the best things I've seen. It's nicely balanced (e.g. while she understands the potentials for networked books, she also understands that not all books will need to be networked.) She digs into the complexities of publishing to seek out those areas of expertise that will continue to be needed as we move into a more porous world. I was particularly struck by this passage:
In this scenario publishers would need to move back further into the territory of filter and editorial consultant and to refocus energies on their (oft forsaken) role as career nurturers for authors (a space currently shared at least by agents in the trade space). They would also need to develop brands...
We often have a tendency to glibly think (in the world of scholarly publishing, at least) that nothing of significance happens between the completion of peer review and the appearance of the published version (whether that be in print or digital form). Some of the ire directed against publishers (in the vein of, "the authors don't get compensated, the editors and peer reviewers work for free, and then you have the audacity to charge me for the final product?") stems from this fundamental misunderstanding. But, as Tom Richardson pointed out in his presentation at CILIPS last week, at the New England Journal of Medicine (along with most other publishers), there is an army of copy-editors and illustrators and fact-checkers who come into play after the article has been accepted, all of whose skills are needed to put that article into final form and make sure that the authors' intent is conveyed in the very best way possible. You can't do that kind of work with volunteers.
And then there's the matter of getting somebody's attention. Take any article from the latest issue of NEJM, Nature, or JAMA. Do you really think that if you posted it on a website and invited comments (even in some mediated way so that it approximated serious peer review), and used those comments to modify and further develop the piece, it would get anywhere near the attention that it would get from having been published in one of the high-profile journals? We have a tendency to ignore the critical importance of brand in helping people make their way through the morass of content that is available.
And the necessity for developing these sorts of brands is only going to grow. As articles become disaggregated from journals, it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out what's worth reading. Social networks will help (although there is always the worry that they tend to favor the popular over the critically valuable.) But I think we will find that we increasingly rely on the critical (and largely invisible, it seems) expertise that people from the publishing community bring.
Lloyd is focusing on book publishing, but the issues she's wrestling with cross all publishing sectors. And just as librarians need to change almost everything they do in order to remain true to the core of what they are, publishers need to "break their traditional boundaries" and make "a step change in their form, culture and approach."
Publishers will need to view themselves as shapers and enablers rather than producers and distributors, to take a project rather than a product approach and to embrace their position as merely a component element in a reader, writer, publisher circularity.
It's worth noting that while Lloyd's manifesto is clearly directed to her colleagues in publishing, it will be appearing in Library Trends. Let's hope that my colleagues read it, learn from it, and take it to heart. You can't be a good librarian anymore if you don't make a place for yourself in this conversation.