who will own your audience: thoughts on the future of publishing




We are all publishers now.

Content is everywhere. We are drowning in content.

When the supply of content exceeds the demand, publishing futurist Mike Shatzkin (and thanks to the excellent Jane Friedman for drawing my attention to this post) asks “What is the new scarce item that will attract the dollars?”

Welcome to the Attention Economy.

Whoever controls the eyeballs, controls the world.

The publishers who win the game – and change the game – will be those, says Shatzkin, “who use the content they control – which today does have value — as “bait” to attract the attention of people and then to keep the attention and build a business around it.”


Stephen Covey startled the book world when he signed with Amazon giving them exclusive e-book rights to his next books.

Amazon of course owns the Kindle.

As more e-readers start to hit the market, what they offer in terms of content will likely become how they distinguish and differentiate themselves.

Which means that, in future, my choice of e-reader won’t depend on the latest techno widgets and wonders – which they’ll all have anyway – but the selection of exclusive content they offer.

As more writers follow Covey’s example, the most powerful of them will flock to where the audience is – and if Amazon owns that audience, then Amazon will also own them.


Floods of content translate into a niche market – something for everybody, the long tail.

As the mainstream continues to disintegrate we’ll become increasingly dependent on ways to filter the content we like and need from everything else. Because excellent content that is relevant to me will become harder and harder to find.

Shatzkin says:

A stark illustration of this hit my radar screen last month. A major agent told me that he sold a Mind, Body, Spirit author’s book to Random House, which sold 12,000 copies. He sold the next book by the same author to niche publisher Hay House, which sold 200,000 copies! And Hay House, with over a million email addresses of people all interested in the same type of book, probably spent less on marketing to sell eight times as many.

This post suggests that the future of the web is not realtime but “ambient streams”:

These are streams of information bubbling up in realtime, which seek us out, surround us, and inform us. They are like a fireplace bathing us in ambient infoheat. I believe that users will not go to a page and type in a search in a search box. Rather the information will appear to them in an ambient way on a range of devices and through different experiences.

Perhaps the world of digital publishing will belong to the publishers who create the best ‘ambient streams’: the flow of high-quality fiction and nonfiction that appeals to a specific kind of audience.

If I opt in to that audience, they could send that flow directly to me and I won’t have to bother looking anywhere else (who has the time?). Which means that other publishers and writers will lose ability to influence me, since we can only influence those who are paying any attention to us in the first place.


The idea behind author platforms is to develop an audience.

To develop the ability to own your audience.

Writers are no longer writers and marketers…but creative entrepreneurs and influencers.

Welcome to the world of Influence Marketing:

Influence marketing happens when you promote yourself indirectly. You influence someone with your style, your behavior and how much they like you. It is “personality” promotion. You are so well liked or respected that people want to be like you or associated with you in some way. That means buying what you recommend because they believe in and/or like you.

Influence, says Technosailor “is not manipulative but leads from a position of conversational power.”

Whether you believe in the concept of “personal brand”, or you dismiss it outright, the desire to latch onto a recognized individual plays out everyday.

Being a celebrity is a dead end road. Celebrities simply wow people with imagery and public facing acts. Being an influencer involves changing games and lives and moving needles…

To be an influencer, you’re going to have to balance that self brand, personal marketing for the sake of being known with providing absolute, unquestioned value to the greater community. Carrying the mantle of an influencer means being a celebrity for the community. It means always giving of yourself so that the rest of the crowd benefits. It’s almost self-sacrificial, flying in the face of personal brand or celebrity.

If writers are to be influencers – if they are to own their audience – then they have to give of themselves. Traditionally published novels will lend credibility and prestige – since traditional publishing is still an incredible and much-needed filter – but become only one part of a writer’s chest of treasures to offer the reader.

True value comes from what can’t be downloaded or shared. This is the writer’s presence. This is his or her interaction with the community in general and individuals in particular.

Direct connection with the writer also means much more direct connection with the work itself, and the blood, sweat and labor that goes into it. When people can see that process and understand it, they’ll have more respect for the labor…and be more willing to pay for its fruits.

The best creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries in one form or another. Visionaries understand that you must allow others to opt in to that vision, to feel they have a part to play in it.

This could be the difference, perhaps, between being owned…or collaborating in an authentic and rewarding writer-audience partnership.



Dec 24, 2009

20 comments · Add Yours

You are incredibly insightful. I’ve enjoyed every single one of your articles. Consider a survival manual for us new writers on the horizon?


Yet another insightful post. I find myself nodding just about every time I read your stuff. Happy Holidays to you.


You’re right—scarily right for someone who hasn’t been slodging along on the Internet for years and years (or maybe you have been, and I’ve just been hanging out in the wrong places.)

You are also really good at bringing the threads of this stuff together so I can see the pattern. I dream of having such synthesizing powers!

At the same time, seeing how you’ve laid this out makes me feel like I might have the stuff to make a good run at this, after all.

What a great early Christmas gift. Thank you, my new-in-’09 Internet friend.


Well put. I absolutely agree that this is the definition of the new world.

What’s interesting is that at the same time the gap between this kind of publishing and “blockbuster” publishing is growing. Whether it’s books, movies, or music, the monster hits are more gigantic than ever before. Here’s an article covering that:

I think the other piece of the puzzle is that individual publishers cannot assume the basic content is where the majority of the profit lies. You have to connect with the audience in a way that makes them want something unique and specialized, and that makes them feel a sense of personal connection to the artist.


Hi Justine :)
Thank you for this post.
I’m going to read it a couple more times to let it all sink in. There’s a lot of information in it.
Merry Christmas!


There’s a book coming out next year, written by UC Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong and a co-writer, called ‘The End of Influence.’ There’s an excerpt up on Foreign Policy, which specifically covers how the US’s influence over the rest of the world, politically, economically, and culturally will be coming to an end. It links up with a fair amount of what you said, though on a bigger — dare I say, macro? — scale.


Thank you, I’m really appreciative of your support. I love the idea of a survival manual, although first I think I should survive a little longer myself (ie: write and sell that next book…that’s also kind of a new direction from the books I wrote before).


Thanks. And to you.


You are so welcome, my new-in-’09 friend. For some reason I feel like I’ve known you longer than I actually have.

And please. If I can do it, you can do it — you *do* do it…I admire your site & your writing.


Reminds me of what the ever-wise Seth Godin said — there’s no middle-of-the-road anymore, and the difference between first and second place is HUGE. If you’re going mainstream, you have to be completely and totally remarkable, or you’ll be (mostly) ignored — it’s an all or nothing proposition. It’s safer to fill a niche need.


Merry Christmas to you! Hope you find something worthy and helpful in the post.


I bumped into this by way of Jason Calacanis, and will echo the feeling of having an interesting Christmas present by way of reading it. My oldest son just graduated with a degree in Communications, and a minor in Philosophy, and you touched on several topics that have been regular sources of discussion for us.

Even small-time bloggers, like myself, have probably noticed the phenomenon of becoming an “influencer,” even if it’s for a very small crowd. Whether it’s on my blog, or on FB, I have found that my opinion on various products or services seems to carry far greater weight that it deserves, simply because a couple of people enjoyed reading something I wrote. (Were I a better writer, or a more effective “influencer,” I might have seen this play out on a larger scale, or more frequent basis.)

However, when I look at some of the tech sector figures who I look to for product recommendations, I seem to come back to the types of people you’ve described: Jason Calacanis, Leo Laporte, Ze Frank, Guy Kawasaki, and so on. In each case, something about their personality causes me to want to emulate them, and follow the brands that they follow.

Fascinating treatment of this complex subject. – Tim


Excellent analysis of the situation. With authors signing to distribution networks like musicians used to before the collapse of the music industry, everything is in flux.

I think you are spot on with your conclusions. Chris Brogan calls the influencers ‘Trust Agents’ (a phrase I dislike) but the idea is clear. We can’t filter the information soup there that is out there. Identifying with a person or group of people who deliver interesting/amusing/relevant content to us seamlessly is the challenge. Anyone who can establish themselves as such a fount of information will be well ahead of the game.


What’s rare is voice. If the platforms go exclusive with content they’ll find themselves boycotted and in ridiculous market wars. Look at the video game market as a clue. Limited exclusivity — a year’s sales locked to one platform before releasing a version for everyone — seems to work, and those using a secondary platform are often willing to wait.

What is genuinely exclusive is my voice. Or yours. Any individual’s stuff, if it’s distinctive enough.

That’s where the true power lies.

Newspapers can no longer justify their huge overhead, nor compete with the internet, by reporting mere facts. All they can fall back on, then, is voice. You’ll pay for what you cannot get elsewhere.


I think what we’re seeing is the power law in action — as content becomes more frequent, the gap between the few that dominate and the rest only becomes more and more extreme, so that most of it ends up staggered along the long tail.

Also, it makes sense that the tools of social media give fans whole new ways to connect with each other and amplify their enthusiasm for a movie or book…at some point a movie or a book stops being just a movie or a book and becomes instead a social/cultural event, and people want to be a part of that…We are ferociously social creatures and seek to connect with each other through those shared pop-culture experiences…

But that kind of success will only happen to a handful…I suspect there will be a lesser number of ‘bestsellers’ than in preceding years, but their level of success will scale to new heights.


I read the article — makes me think of this kind of global open-source culture…Thanks for the link, I appreciate that. (I love links.)


Thank you! I know Jason (and like him quite a bit) — very funny, larger-than-life, wicked smart. Another thing these personalities have going for them is social proof…like the snowball that keeps rolling down the mountain & just keeps getting bigger…I would trust Kawasaki on certain matters, for example, because other people trust him, so he has that stamp of authority, no matter how or where it actually began.


Thanks. I totally agree, I think your comments are spot-on. It will no longer be about distribution but digital curation. The influentials will have a lot of power. It’s going to be interesting to watch develop.


Yeah, excellence, distinctive voice, etc. — the best of what’s out there — will always be hungered for and sought after in a “water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink” kind of way.

People will pay for what they can trust.


I cannot offer you enough thanks for all the help you have provided to me.

As a novice, I had no clue where to begin, what to do or how to do it. I just knew I had ideas running rampant in my head and couldn’t shut them up.

After the death of one of my most loved family members, I used writing to sort through the grief I had tangled up inside. It’s been almost a year since her death, and now I find myself with what appears to be a potential novel. :)

Thanks again for helping those of us who might still be lost and wandering the woods of words alone.


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