John B. Thompson

May 7, 2021

Book Wars

The Digital Revolution in Publishing

Polity 2021

Today I talked to John Thompson, Emeritus Professor, Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, about his new book Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing (Polity, 2021). We discuss crowdfunding, audio books, distribution chains, social media, self-publishing, ebooks, Amazon, retail, and oh, also those things that are made of paper and glued together and have words printed in them.

Interviewer: "One of the real eye-openers for me in the book was the distance, historically speaking, between readers and publishers. Now, as I think about it, and as I compare what a company like Amazon does to what traditional publishers do, well, I begin to notice that publishers are on the side of authors and content and that publishers have an obligation, even, on that side."

John Thompson: "Yes, they have an obligation to authors. Publishers are good and professional at developing content. And if they're good publishers, they have a well thought-through and sophisticated marketing and publicity operation that helps to create visibility for books. But on this last point alone–––making books known to others–––the opportunity created by the digital revolution is not just that you make books visible by using traditional media like advertising in the newspaper, but that you are able to reach out directly to readers and consumers and make your books visible to them directly, in much the way that Amazon does when they send an email blast to an Amazon user that says, 'You might be interested in this book.' But why can't publishers do that themselves? Now, thanks to the digital revolution, the opportunity is created for publishers to develop relationships with readers, and to do so at scale. It simply wasn't possible, prior to the digital revolution and prior to the Internet. But now it is. And so that is a huge transformation that publishers are beginning to avail themselves of and which will, I think, continue to change the industry."

Daniel Shea heads Scholarly Communication, the podcast about how knowledge gets known. Daniel is Director of the Writing Program at Heidelberg University, Germany. Daniel's YouTube Channel is called Write Your Research.

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