Sarah Lacy feels she has the answers in this BusinessWeek article and I think she makes some good points. She presents five important lessons book publishers need to learn from "the new web", as she puts it. Here are my thoughts on each of her five points:
Make it social. Amen! In fact, social network capabilities are something I've been pleading for Amazon to consider when developing Kindle version 2.0, 3.0 and beyond. I especially love her point that "social networking could do for book clubs what Scrabulous did for fans of Scrabble."
Take book tours out of the stores. A couple of points here. First, Sarah is wrong to abandon the bookstores. I believe a better approach is one that leverages all potential platforms and locations, including bookstores. Secondly, if you're not familiar with BookTour you should check it out as soon as possible. BookTour is an excellent example of a service you can use to coordinate all types of tours, including ones involving bookstores. After all, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water!
Create stars -- don't just exploit existing ones. Excellent, excellent point here about how we often focus too much on proven winners and not enough on the up-and-comers. I'm particularly intrigued by this suggestion from Sarah and I wonder how other authors would respond to it: Require as part of the contract that the author blog, speak on panels, attend events. Give them incentives for delivering—say, through Web traffic or the number of followers they amass on Twitter. I'm not so sure her multi-book agreement approach will take off though. After all, few books are a guaranteed hit, even ones from an unproven author with what appears to be a promising platform. So how many publishers are prepared to commit to more than one title from the start? Sure, it happens, but if the first book is a flop the next one (to fulfill the agreement) is likely to be painful for everyone. On the other hand, if the first one's a hit I'll bet the author would prefer to renegotiate a better deal on the next one.
Go electronic from the get-go. I'm sure there are still plenty of old school publishers that work exclusively with hard copy as Sarah describes, but that's not how things operate in my world. In fact, the Professional/Trade division of Wiley that I'm part of has developed a state-of-the-art production process that depends on electronic files from authors. That's one of the reasons my colleagues were able to produce the first book available on Apple's 3G iPhone, for example.
Make e-commerce even easier. Another excellent point. I can't wait for us to get to the vision Sarah describes here: Take the titles far beyond Amazon.com—through one-click widgets appended to blogs, Facebook pages, and other sites across the Web. Link these tools directly to PayPal and Google Checkout. Think: one-click purchase, not one click takes you to Amazon. It will probably take longer than we'd like to get there, but I'm convinced we will.