Issue 5: Trends in Establishing Authority and Credibility as a Publisher

Current Trends

Publishers are struggling with establishing dominance, credibility and authority in this age of overabundance. This editorial team will explore the past and current methods of establishing credibility, dominance and authority, and explore that evolution while thinking about publishing’s future.

Past methods of establishing dominance/authority have included mergers (1), print news best-seller lists, getting a book reviewed by certain critics/on Oprah, creating block-buster books that dominate the market.

Currently, publishers are still working hard to be visible – and visibility is crucial to establishing authority. From in-class survey results we learned that people still put credence in best-seller lists, like the New York Times, and while this approach continues, publishers are diversifying their efforts to draw readers in, and make their books known. Many publishers are focusing on the digital shift (2).

The major way publishers are trying to draw more eyes are by fully utilizing digital formats for their books. The push toward digital is beginning to take on profitability of its own by allowing publishers to revitalize their back list, and publishers are getting creative about licensing these titles out.

Some large publishing companies, like Harper-Collins are partnering with services offering digital subscription-based models (Scribd and Oyster) (3) similar to Netflix, putting emphasis on content, instead of container, as consumers shift toward a book ownership-free lifestyle (4). Other publishers are participating in bundling programs like Kindle Matchbook, offering digital copies of books along with hard copies, and others, like McMillan, are offering digital rights to libraries for e-book lending (5).  In any of these cases, the digital versions of books are finding new avenues to connect with readers, which will hopefully, in turn, interest the readers in more of the authors’ works and by extension the publisher.

Brick-and-mortar publishers are also paying attention to successful self-published works, some of which top Amazon and New York Times best-seller lists, and are focusing on acquiring these already-popular book series or authors (6). By attaching their name to an already-successful series they are increasing their dominance and authority.

Publishers are also relying on metadata to drive up visibility. Early promotion and SEO are still drivers of visibility and, to consumers, authority. If a publisher comes up first in a Google search of a certain book genre, searchers still consider it to be the best source. Also, as publishers make their content available on other websites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or even in e-libraries, the more (and more specific) metadata they make available, the easier a user can find a publisher’s books that appeal to them (7). Data on consumers, and consumption, is also quickly available to publishers to help inform their advertising and marketing decisions (8).

Publishers are beginning to create digital content to supplement books, especially how-to books, like cookbooks and build-it-yourself (9), which can come with interactive apps that integrate into the real world (10). In short, publishers are looking for new and improved ways to get their content to consumers, no matter how that happens.

In the future, interactivity will play a key role in driving interest and sales. Gaming theory seems to be cropping up in analyses of coming trends. Book consumption tends to be passive. To get readers engaged publishers must embrace the possibilities of interactivity, engagement and participation to encourage brand loyalty and repeat-patronage (11, 11a).


1. And the good, old-fashioned merger:

2. Digital switch will be profitable:

3. Subscription services:

4. Context not container again:

5. McMillan backlist to libraries:

6. Self-publishing successes:

7. Optimizing Metadata:

8. Data and a hell of a lot of guts:

9. Another e-cookbook:

10. Interactive cookbooks:

11. Gaming theory and publishers:

(11a) The slides for gamification:

Historical Trends

Publishing has been around for thousands of years dating back to when cave walls were used as a medium. In 1456, the Bible was the first book printed by Gutenberg in Germany using the first print press in the world. In 1638 a press was imported from England to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The first English book printed in the United States was The Whole Booke of Psalmes, also known as the Bay Psalm Book. Georgia was the last of the 13 colonies to get a printing press, in 1762. Books published in the north were religious titles whereas the south published books in law. Most often printers were the booksellers.

In was not until the 19 century that a pattern of trends was set in the publishing industry. New York, NY became the center of the publishing industry in the United States through the 21st century. The large publishing houses in New York exercised much influence, that they forced many local printers out of business. In 2000, Harper, Putnam, and Scribner were still popular names in the industry.

Harper took advantage of the lack of international copyright enforcement by printing pirated copies of books by British authors, such as Charles Dickens without paying royalties to the British authors or publishers. In 1842, Dickens traveled to the United States in hopes of recouping his royalties but was unsuccessful. Pirating works of foreign works ended when the United States entered into the International Copyright Act of 1891 to ensure American authors and publishers received their royalties due from sales outside the states.

The 1920s set the stage for a new generation of publishing. It was the beginning of the Modern Age in American literature. The new generation of writers required a new generation of publishers that dared to champion new, modern American literature. So came the birth of important publishing houses as Simon and Schuster, Random House, Alfred A. Knopf, and Viking Press. Random House grew to be the largest and most successful publisher in the United States but not until Simon and Schuler reintroduced mass-market paperback books.

Later, book clubs formed as a new way to market books but struggled to survive because of the rise in bookstore chains and Internet booksellers. Merging publishing houses became an economic trend as well as the consolidation of retail sales outlets. Today, online booksellers, such as Amazon have a profound effect on the way publishers market and sell books.

Comparing Historical and Current Trends in Becoming an Authoritative and Credible Publisher and Looking Forward

Prior to the International Copyright Act of 1891, publishers could essentially use whatever means necessary, such as content piracy, to get a leg up on their competition and establish dominance in the publishing community. However, after copyright laws were established, forcing publishers to use more ethical means of establishing authority among their competitors and credibility in the eyes of their audience, over time publishers became more conscious about how they conducted business, including more focus on content acquisition and marketing to audiences specific to this content. This evolution in business savvy, coupled by the expansion of literacy in the United States, eventually led to growth in the number of publishers in the publishing industry and thus a growth in competition. However, writers at that time did not have any means of publishing themselves and relied on publishers to print and distribute their content. This created a surplus of content for publishers to process, facilitating the formation of publishing goliaths like Random House.

Today, however, publishers large and small are facing a very different world than even a decade ago; authors are able to publish their own work, content is being shared freely like never before thanks to the internet, and the demand for digital content is growing every day. All of these factors are contributing to new ideas about what authority and credibility mean in the publishing industry and shaping different ways by which publishers establish it. Right now, trends for establishing authority in publishing appear to center around content quality (including ease and quality of access to digital content), effective promotion and marketing (using SEO, social media, etc.), and staying up to date with new changes in the evolving digital shift.

Nobody can say for sure where publishing will go next and by what means publishers will establish themselves in that landscape, but based on historical and current trends one can infer that 1) self-publishing is likely to become more sophisticated and continue to grow, 2) publishers will need to develop new marketing and business models to meet the growth in open access and the changing nature of the marketplace, and 3) digital content will continue to evolve.

Editorial Team 5:

Lindsey Jurd

Lisette Ortiz

Courtney Stackhouse



Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “Issue 5: Trends in Establishing Authority and Credibility as a Publisher

  1. Amazing article! Very well said… Thanks for sharing your insight in establishing authority.. More power to you! And keep posting articles like this.. 🙂

  2. Great article. I would also like to add the necessity of expanding the overall reading audience and reaching into non-traditional demographics.

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