What a publisher does

After reading the discussion on Google+ on Edan Lepucki’s post on why not to self-publish (read it, it’s pretty good, not as one-sided as you’d think) I began yesterday to think again about the changing role of the publisher.

What follows is a stream-of-consciousness list of tasks a publisher should be able to tackle. It requires a pretty wide-ranging set of skills.

Off the top of my head, so apologies if I miss any obvious ones or if some of these make limited sense:

Note that I didn’t mention editorial processes, book acquisition, or author advances at all. This is the baseline for all publishers, including those who do nothing but reissues, or those who, legitimately in my view, maintain that the quality of the text is a matter of the author-reader relationship, and the publisher’s role is that of a gatekeeper, not developer of the text.

The clearest value a publisher has to an author is when they offer design, sales, marketing, and public relations expertise that can take years to develop. A publisher with a strong skill set in those areas, and stable relationships to build on, should never have to worry about the ebook transition.

The burgeoning self-publishing infrastructure will benefit publishers as well. A mature market for editorial services, design services, etc., is just as useful to publishers just as it is to self-publishers.