Let us be clear —“Direct to consumer” is not about selling books through your website. Rather, it is a philosophy that puts your consumer, the reader, first and foremost in each and every activity that the business undertakes. That might seem straightforward enough but with decades of complex author, agent and retail agreements piling up not to mention territorial licensing, franchise deals and the like readers may have taken a bit of a back seat in publisher corporate strategy.

The first phase of the digital evolution of the industry has taken place and where we go next depends on publishers shifting their business away from B2B — we are no longer in the exclusive domains of resellers and middle men. Whoever makes the most of the unparalleled direct access to the consumers that digital platforms provide will emerge as the next dominant player in this ever changing ecosystem.

Publishers must recognize that they are brand owners. They are the gatekeepers standing between fans and the authors and stories they love. Ask the average reader who their favourite author is and you get a clear cut answer (or two, or more!). Ask who publishes that author and you see where the branding loses focus.

I look to my previous career in video game publishing and how game publishers organized business verticals and brands around genres and I see a lot of opportunities for book imprints with more defined offerings to play a larger role in bridging the publisher-to-reader divide. On noisy social networks targeted content that speaks to individual interests is more likely to to resonate with readers than generic mass communication.

Authors, with varying degrees of success, have been better at connecting and communicating with their readers, and publishers can amplify those successes instead of adding competing voices to the mix by empowering and enabling these connections and by looking to innovators in the digital space to maximize the breadth and depths of these interactions.

So what is it that readers want? The simple answer is more books to read. The detailed answer involves curation, personalization and greater engagement. Whether that engagement is with the publisher, imprint, author or book character depends on the book genre and reader habits, and there is no one-size-fits-all. For some reader types that would mean high frequency interaction and more intimate online events. For others it could be a blockbuster annual convention with seasonal release lineups in the spirit of E3 and Eurogamer for games.

The detailed answer also involves a simpler way to find and buy books, and for that publishers have to think outside of the moulds that have been cast for online book retail. We have to experiment with new models and stop rejecting the unfamiliar. We have to break free of self-imposed restrictions to innovation, and most importantly we have to learn to iterate with these trials quickly and efficiently to keep pace with the digital landscape we are competing within.

*First published on The Bookseller’s Futurebook blog: http://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/candide-kirk-manifesto-readers-309765