Publishing’s Discoverability “Problem”

de Fer, Nicolas (1705) (in French), L’Empire d...
de Fer, Nicolas (1705) (in French), L’Empire d’Allemagne The German Empire (map) . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With all the disruptions in the book industry these days (e-books, self publishing, etc.), a lot of ink, electronic and otherwise, has been devoted to the “new” “discoverability” “problem” for publishers and booksellers and readers. I use quotes liberally because much as the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, the new discoverability problem is neither new, nor about discoverability, nor a problem (unless you want to make it one).

It’s not new, because authors, publishers, and booksellers have always had to figure out ways to get their books to readers. It’s only the methods that continue to change.

It’s not about discoverability because for one, I’m not convinced discoverability is even a word. No one can seem to agree on a definition. And because the concept is so wibbly-wobbly, talking about discoverability seems to be a convenient way to dodge real issues, especially when the topic of lost marketshare come up–whether its traditional publishers losing marketshare to authors publishing independently or bricks-and-mortar booksellers losing marketshare to Amazon.

It’s also not a problem. Let’s tally my recent book discoveries. I walked into a bookstore and found four books I wanted to read within two minutes. I’ve had a friend recommend a book to me. I saw another friend talk about a book she was was reading on Facebook. I read a review of two other books online, and three authors I like have announced new books coming out in the next few months. In other words, I discover books the way I’ve always discovered them, and I suspect I’m not alone. “Disruptive technologies” aren’t going to change that. No, my problem is “discovering” enough time to read all these books.

I’m a little fatigued from all the hand wringing and hand waving. As a reader I want to read as many books that interest me as I possibly can. As a writer, I want my stories to reach everyone who might want to read them. Can we stop talking about faux problems and figure out a way to make those things happen?

3 thoughts on “Publishing’s Discoverability “Problem”

  1. TheGirl November 26, 2013 / 8:23 pm

    Lol, maybe I’ll comment on every person blog, to read “this book here.” I just think they mean the market is getting more competitive, because with self pub and e-books, now millions of books are being published each year and there is so much to choose from. Though I think for now (but not for long) traditional pub still have the upper hand because they have great resources to make their books “discoverable.” They still get front and center ad space, while self-pub titles are squeezed into some footnote on a back page or a separate category hardly mentioned. But even best selling authors, are starting to self-pub, and that’s how they’ll lose money: when they can’t keep their better performing authors.

    • Matthew November 26, 2013 / 10:53 pm

      I think what bothers me is the people saying there is a “discoverability” problem *because* of all the changes happening in publishing. It’s the people flailing about saying, “If bookstores/traditional publishers/print books/newspapers go away, how will people ever find books they want to read?” that bother me. It’s a pretty silly argument when you think about it. People will find new books they ways they always have–browsing, recommendations from friends, book reviews, etc.

      • TheGirl November 26, 2013 / 10:58 pm


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