spiver[1] Found via TechDirt: Ex-music-industry-exec Susan Piver, who I covered a few days ago for her comparison of Macmillan’s pricing change to the way the music industry went down the tubes around the turn of the century, has made another post comparing the two industries.

This is actually an article she wrote after being badly shaken by what she saw at 2009’s O’Reilly Tools of Change conference. She reposted it in preparation for 2010’s TOC conference coming up at the end of this month.

Piver sees history repeating itself: publishers, she says, are reacting to e-books and file-sharing in much the same ways as the music industry reacted to digital music ten years earlier.

In particular, she casts blame on the way both industries were or are focusing on finding big sellers (hit records, bestselling books) at the expense of lesser-selling but more diverse talent.

Rather than developing artists, exploiting regional marketplaces, and building financial models that can easily support a mid-range list, both industries focus on entertainment at the expense of art and expression. (Difference between selling entertainment vs art? Entertainment starts with the customer and works back to the product. Art begins with the product and works forward to find/create an audience.)

Piver also remarks on how a number of people at the conference parroted the assumption that peer-to-peer downloading “killed the music business” and might do the same for publishing.

Downloads did not kill the music business. Shortsightedness and turf-protection on the part of music business executives did. Piracy and changing distribution schema will not kill the publishing industry. Shortsighted infrastructure-protection on the part of publishing houses will.

And this put me in mind of something I saw spring up in the wake of the Amazon/Macmillan dispute and John Sargent’s letter to publishing-industry staff. I wrote in my “Appeal for Understanding” of e-book fans upset by the way Sargent referred to Amazon as Macmillan’s “customer” without ever mentioning them.

Piver writes:

At Tools of Change, Sara Lloyd of Pan-MacMillan nailed it when she said, "Publishers understand markets, but not customers." As anyone in the music business could have told you years ago, the customer is now a human being, and publishers–who still see retail as their customers–don’t know how to build products for individuals who might want to discuss, interact with, congregate around, or add their own $0.02 to the content. The customer has stepped out of the bookstore and into the foyer of the publishing houses, they are knocking on the doors of authors, and asking to be addressed as individuals.

This is exactly right, and I am sure Ficbot would agree.

At present (or at least, at the 2009 Tools of Change conference), Piver says, she sees a lot of people in the industry uncertain what direction to take—hoping someone else does something that works so they can copy it. (Perhaps the Macmillan pricing change was such a “something”, though Piver does not say so.)

As I wrote yesterday, media executives such as Elisabeth Murdoch are starting to recognize the importance of social media and interactivity in promoting their products. Perhaps it is time publishers took a page from that book.

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Susan Piver: Publishing industry repeating mistakes of music industry
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