In the article Literary Agents: heroes no more?, Bonie Santos introduces John Saddler’s class about the role of literary agents, and how this role has changed over the course of publishing history. She lists six major responsibilities of a literary agent, including bridging between authors and publishers, advising authors, and handling issues related to marketing and rights.
Various roles were introduced into the publishing chain from the early 17th century to the late 19th century, as illustrated in the picture above. Today, the necessity of literary agencies are challenged by the emerging e-book market, which makes their role less profitable, and by the digital technology that allows authors to directly reach their readers through self-promoting on social media. There have been concerns about the loss of status of literary agent, which may potentially put authors in disadvantage during negotiation with publishers; Jason Allen Ashlock urges fellow literary agents to “retain their heroic role, which is to protect authors”. However, this concern seems much less relevant if the authors take an alternative approach — self-publishing. I believe that in digital era, where there is challenge, there is opportunity, as indicated in the Chinese phrase for “challenge” (危機/危机, wei1 ji1). As for literary agents, they may wish to seek a brighter future in honing on their consultancy and networking services rather than simply acting as a representative during the author/publisher negotiation.
Image Credit: Kingston Publishing/MA Publishing team at Kingston University
Johanna Vondeling gives a speech about her observation of the global publishing industry while working in Perth, Australia.
According to Vondeling, the rapid change that publishing industry faces today comes from “the explosion of self-publishing”, “the emergence of new technologies and new business models”, “globalisation of the industry”, and even some “fundamental changes in consumption habits”. These changes have brought about unprecedented challenges in the industry. She encourages the global publishers to invest more in digital publishing to embrace the new trends, while maintaining traditional publishing practices.
The most interesting point that Vondeling has made is that publishers these days are not just competing with each other or self-publishing authors, but are really competing with the attention of readers, who are believed to spend less and less time on reading due to distraction of emerging electronic devices and more diversified sources of information. Concerns of this phenomenon can be found beyond the publishing industry; as people devote more time to their smartphones and laptop entertainments, they are deprived of the time they used to spend exercising, meditating, family gathering, and even sleeping. What we are witnessing is a fundamental change of modern lifestyle that has been going on globally in the past decade. Traditional publishers will need to think about adjusting their strategies in business decision making before the change is too overwhelming to digest.
Video Credit: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Andrew Losowsky delivers an informative and entertaining talk The Power of Publishing Platforms at TEDxAtlanta (I have transcribed this video into English for TED, but the subtitle is still pending approval).
From a journalist at leading publications to an independent journalist/editor, Losowsky wants to change who we listen to, and how we listen by helping people understand their own world and get their own voice through publishing. I have kept this talk on my favorite list to remind myself why I aspire to become a publisher in the first place.
Video Credit: TEDxAtlanta