Over at Electric Book Works, we’ve been working on a range of fascinating publishing projects, and they all have something in common: they are great examples of strategic publishing.
I’ve been speaking and writing a lot about strategic publishing recently. In short, it is publishing for strategic reasons, as opposed to commercial reasons. And I reckon it’s the fastest-growing sector in the book-making industry.
If you’re a publishing company like Pearson or Penguin, publishing is your business, and you measure success in book sales. You’re publishing for commercial reasons, not strategic ones.
On the other hand, if you’re a non-profit like CORE Economics, you measure success in other ways, like the number of universities adopting your textbooks. And publishing those textbooks is part of your strategy for changing how economics is taught, and changing the way that economists think.
Why is it useful to distinguish between strategic and commercial publishing?
Firstly, it’s useful to put a name to this valuable strategic tool. That way, organisations can more easily add it to their discussions and plans.
Secondly, for us book-makers, strategic publishing has very different dynamics to commercial publishing. And we must be careful not to apply the tools and trappings of commercial publishing to it. For example, the way we cost projects, and measure return on investment, is very different. Publishing to the open web also becomes a much higher priority, which changes the tools and skills we want on a project.
Strategic publishing has always existed, usually as an innovative exception to the commercial-publishing norm. As publishing costs drop, service providers learn new skills, and the web becomes more central to all our lives, I expect that we’ll see it grow into a distinct, recognised field within publishing. In publishing-studies departments, for example, we’ll see teachers and researchers exploring its particular dynamics.
I’ve written more on strategic publishing on the Electric Book Works site:
- Most recently, I answer the basic question ‘What is strategic publishing?’, and explain why an organisation might use it to meet their broader aims.
- In ‘What is a book in the digital age?’ I ask: what is ‘bookness’ in an age of websites, apps and ebooks, and does it matter? It does, of course. And I explain why a book is a self-standing package of complex ideas.
- In ‘Why you love reading on paper (and what it means for ebooks)’, I talk about how paper offers something that screens can’t: a physical journey.
- In ‘The scale of the web, the authority of print’, I argue that effective strategic publications depend on both the scale of the web and the authority of print. And I cover some of the concrete issues involved in achieving both, including workflows and costs.
On Wednesdays in November (and perhaps beyond) I’ll be hosting weekly Conversations in Strategic Publishing: a casual Zoom call for anyone interested in this field. Get the details here.