Where is the Editor?



Eoin Purcell

While it sounds a little humorous and more like a game from my childhood in actual fact this is a very important issue and and that will become more so over the next few years.

Editors are an endangered species in one sense and a rare commodity in another. They are endangered because the revolution in publishing is making their role either superfluous or too expensive. As publishing technology develops and becomes easier to use, more people are capable of using that technology that has facilitated it to publish articles, magazines and books for themselves.

Endangered because . . .
Editors, designers and all the other people who had up to this point been involved in the process are thus marginalised because a large body of people (the new self publishers) see no need for them. What is more, the people who hire editors and designers, Publishers, begin to see them as cost centres in an increasingly competitive market. When you are competing against books and other publishers that do not use professional design or professional editors and thus have lower costs (not to mention those for whom the costs are largely irrelevant) in the journey toward the bookshelf you can understand their logic.

It’s a perfect storm for editors then. One the one hand they are no longer wanted by one side of the industry and on the other they are being seen as drags on profit rather than assistants in making it by publishers. Tough spot to be in.

But rare commodities because . . .
The skills are still vital. Think about the digital world for little and consider the real stars. One group of stars are quality writers and editors. The staff who ensure sites like paidcontent.org and Lifehacker function well are armed with the skills of the reporter and journalist. There are those who would disagree but I think while there is too much hype about blogging in general, in specific cases bloggers are as good if not better than journalists.

The skills of the writer and journalist then are as valid and useful in a world where publishing written content is in essence (once access issues and power are considered and not forgetting those left behind) free. The reason is that these people are talented at rooting out information, capable digesters of information and able to scrounge up scoops and news stories that interest the readership. Not everyone can do it, or wants to do it. it is the reason why Jason Calacanis idea of paying for talent from Digg to work on Netscape was at once brilliant and controversial.

The future . . .
Talented editors will still be in demand for the same reason that talented editors and reporters will succeed in the new environment. But before that happens a number of key blocks will have to slot into place:

  1. Self publishers must realise that although they do not NEED editors, their work might still BENEFIT from their expertise.
  2. Publishers must realise that although they do not CREATE REVENUE, editors CREATE VALUE.
  3. Editors need to take responsibility for themselves, either by joining companies where they are champions for their books (like Snowbooks) or by going it alone as freelance editors and building a business that they control.

So you can see what I think of Where’s the Editor? The real editor needs to stand up, face the music and to some degree tough out a rough time until smoother waters come their way.

Looking forward to rest
Eoin