Welcome to the newest installment of The Red Sofa Chats! I’m extremely excited about my newest guest, Brett Sandusky. I am a fan of his site, Publishr, as well as his informative Twitter stream.
Brett adds a new flavor to these chats, as I really appreciate his perspective of where publishing is going and the value of Social Media to our industry. I particularly enjoyed Brett’s point of view of where books will be in 5 yrs–I’m in total agreement that it will be more of a package vs. just a printed book. Ultimately Brett leaves lots to be discussed here, and I would love to hear your thoughts. Now onto the nitty gritty. . .
Bio: Brett Sandusky is Digital Marketing Manger at Kaplan Publishing. His particular focus is on web properties, author engagement, and building strategic digital products. He is also the founder of Publishr, an ever-growing collection of essays and experiments which explores the world of digital publishing through theory and practice. He lives in Brooklyn. He can be found at here on Twitter.
1. Why did you choose to work in publishing?
Books are what I know. My educational background is in French literature, and I lived abroad in the French-speaking world for about seven years. It was during these years that I really developed my love of books as objects, writing as an artform, authorship, literary theory, ideas, linguistics, grammar, words, nuances, Literature with a big L, etc. My love of the book industry came later.
When I completed my studies, I didn’t quite know how I wanted to fit into the equation, but I knew I wanted to be involved with books and writing in some way. At the time, I was a poor grad student in Paris, finishing a masters in comparative lit, and teaching English top get by. Cliché, I know. One of my students, who was a communications executive at a major French luxury food company, told me one day that I should pursue a career in marketing and communications. I took her advice, and started working in the marketing department for a financial magazine. Later, when I got back to the States, I continued along the path in marketing, but ended up working in a marketing agency in Chicago with a Fortune 500 automotive client. While I learned a great deal from that job, I found myself looking for something else.
After about a year and a half, I decided to move to New York, and had an offer to come work in a publishing house. I’ve never looked back. Since then, I’ve learned to love this industry for what it is. Publishing is truly an industry of passionate, interesting, smart people who love what they do. I also try to push it into what it can be. (Ever so gently.)
2. What do you wish you could have done (in publishing) — before starting Publishr?
For me, there is no better time to be in publishing than the present. Right now, we are at a crossroads of opportunity and reinvention. It is exceedingly rare that an industry has the chance to completely reinvent itself and arise a phoenix from its past. Publishing has, in the digital future, such an opportunity. Who, with a sense of adventure, wouldn’t want to be involved in making that happen?
3. What are you reading right now (for personal reading)?
I am reading Fury by Salman Rushdie.
Salman Rushdie is one of the few authors with a place in my personal Panthéon. I always find reading his work allows me to reset creatively; I have moments of great creative clarity while reading his novels. The way he manipulates words and ideas really does leave me with new perspectives on life, unexplored points of view, and an expanded thought system. Every so often I make my way back to the master in one way or another.
I feel that his writing speaks to me in a very singular way which is rare; I can say the same of Anne Carson, Michiel Heyns, Amos Oz, and Christine Angot.
4. How do you utilize Twitter? How do you believe it has changed the way we go about publishing books?
Let me get to the second part of your question first. I do not think Twitter has changed the way we go about publishing books. Twitter is an online networking place, a channel for disseminating information, an RSS tool for syndicating information quickly, a listening tool, a news source, etc. While these things are important, and incredibly useful, I don’t think they have have made any fundamental changes in our industry. Just as is the case with any other industry. Publishing continues to publish books, and is working on creating an integrated eBook business. These things will continue indifferently with or without Twitter.
To be honest, as a marketer, it gets frustrating to continually hear how Twitter is the answer to this or that need. It is not a cure-all. There was a time when publishers were asking marketing departments to get every single one of their authors on Twitter, forcing many into a space they didn’t understand and in which they had no interest. People equated marketing in the digital space with what I consider to be face value, or superficial social media usage. The reality of the situation is this: I have seen little to no evidence that social media, and Twitter in particular, has been able to move the needle significantly in terms of sales. That’s to say, when we look at it from a business perspective, it is not a highly effective marketing channel. (I do think, however, that Twitter can be used much more effectively as a branding apparatus.)
Now, I do consider that there are authors on Twitter, and some of them use it wisely to make relationships with bookstores and set up events, to bond with other authors and publishing people, and to form connections with readers. Others use it to grow small communities around their personalities or author brand. Others still use it to syndicate a blog via RSS feed. These efforts are not negligible, and I actually do think that authors should continue doing these things. But, I can’t help but go back to my previous statement: through all these efforts, an author will, in all likelihood, not sell a significantly higher number of books. And, believe me, I’ve looked for major sales spikes.
As for myself, I use Twitter as a networking tool in the publishing industry, and I have made many significant connections. I use it for searching information about our brand, our authors, and topics pertinent to our verticals. I use it for its RSS capabilities. I use it to bounce ideas off of my peers. I use it to follow news both within and outside of the publishing industry. I also use it for things not related to publishing at all. Not everything has to be so serious and work work work all the time.
5. If you had a crystal ball, where do you think (or hope) publishing will be in 5 yrs?
Right now, we are struggling with the transition from a print-only business to an integrated print + digital paradigm. I would venture to say that the majority of the obstacles related to digital publishing are caused by one of two things: the fact that we’ve never done certain things before, and thus are learning as we move forward, and the fact that we are operating full throttle with a print mentality, trying to change semantics when necessary for digital to make sense. The former will take care of itself as houses produce a higher quantity of eBooks and more complex digital products. You can never replace the experience of charting the unknown.
But, I do hope that in five years from now, we will have moved away from the current print mentality we are in, and truly adopt an integrated mindset inclusive of print, digital, audio, video, otherwise, and not yet determined. This is difficult, but not impossible. To achieve this, we need to tell ourselves that we are in the business of packaging content (not “books”) for our customers and that, if we want to survive, we need to interact directly with our customers every day.
I think we’ll see new, smaller, nimble publishing houses emerge that do these things well which will change the landscape significantly. In five years from now, I am sure the industry will barely resemble its current self.