This piece on Amanda Palmer's TED Talk is the first in a new series called Tough Love. I love publishing, but I believe that many traditional aspects of the industry are struggling - not due to the rise of ebooks, but because of the ways in which they are reacting to it and other structural changes brought about by the internet. Authors, books and publishing deserve better. It's time to get smart. If you have a topic you'd like to suggest for Tough Love, you can leave a comment or email me at

According to Mashable, Amanda Palmer "won" TED this year with a beautiful talk about crowdfunding and audience engagement.

Its lessons don't just apply to punk-cabaret musicians with a penchant for couchsurfing. There's a lot for big publishers to learn from her tale.

First, a little context. Publishing has traditionally been a Business to Business industry. Its primary focus was, until recently, selling books to bookstores and libraries. The responsibility of dealing directly with readers was down to the stores and libraries themselves.

However, with the rise of ebooks and social media, Amazon and Goodreads, publishers find themselves increasingly becoming public-facing brands, whether they like it or not.

In many cases, legacy publishers seem to be hopelessly ill equipped for talking directly to this audience. As brands, they often seem to have little consistency in their voice or methods. And although they exist in digital markets, much of their efforts haven't adapted to what they can offer. In most cases, mainstream publishing is making very few truly digital products - instead they're just printing on glass. It's not too late to catch up - but it might soon be.

Publishers, watch the video above, and read below. The world has changed, and Amanda is offering you a flower. Take it while you can.

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  • 1. Don't pick fights

    Beware. And be flexible. Palmer was caught up in an unpleasant dispute with her label over disappointing sales, and so fans voluntarily handed her money to escape their clutches. As a result, she became a trailblazer for innovation, inspiring thousands of other artists to question exactly what their labels do for them anyway. Publishers need to work closely with writers, and not pretend that other options don't exist. They need to listen to them, figure out how to help them, and if they decide to do their own thing, support them in that. The writers will respect the publisher more, and might just call back later if what you can offer is useful to them in the future. But not if they and their readers hate the publishing company for what they said and did before.

  • 2. Trust your readers

    Be prepared to hear this drumbeat on a regular basis on Tough Love:<strong> Stop with the Digital Rights Management (DRM)</strong>. What it says to readers is "You can't be trusted not to pirate ebooks, and so we have to punish you by preventing you from owning what we sell you." As both Palmer and Cory Doctorow have shown, their sales and popularity only grow as a result of handing over their creative output and trusting enough people to do the right thing in response. They are only outliers because the mainstream currently forces them to be.

  • 3. Not all numbers are equal

    When her first album sold 25,000 copies, the label told her they were disappointed, and pushed her to one side. After all, how much money can you make from 25,000 people? The answer, it turns out, is $1.19 million, if you know how to ask. The label's brusque shortsightedness, plus its 'one size fits all' methodology, cost them not only future Dresden Dolls sales, but probably other artists from wanting to sign with them in the future. A small number who truly follows an artist are ultimately worth a lot more than a huge number who'll forget them tomorrow.

  • 4. Create meaningful connections

    That $1.19 million<a href=""> wasn't as big a pay day as it first sounds</a>. But that's ok, because its value was far greater than monetary. What the Kickstarter did was identify groups of fans, all of whom had proven their support in a more meaningful fashion than simply clicking a "Like" button - and some of whom had self-identified as prepared to pay higher prices for more personalized experiences. Kickstarter isn't where artists raise a regular income - it's where they find and develop true fans.

  • 5. Encourage collaboration

    At each gig, Amanda Palmer invites other musicians to join them on stage for certain songs, making each performance unique. They are the talented superfans, rewarded with tickets and beer and love and applause for helping make the experience more special. From limited-edition book covers to reading events, <a href="">writing experiments</a> to other forms of interaction, the worst response that a publisher can get from an invitation is 'no'. (NB this isn't an encouragement to crowdsource content that publishers might otherwise pay for - this is about a different kind of transaction, designed to enhance instead of replace the conventional creator-audience interaction.)

  • 6. Don't keep readers at arm's length

    Last year, the publishing industry's largest event BookExpo America invited leading book bloggers to buy tickets for one of its days, as "Power Readers". Many in the industry reacted extremely nervously. "But, who are these people?" said one senior figure at a major publisher. "They could be anyone." These people aren't anyone, Major Publisher. They are fanatical readers who are prepared to pay $49 to hang out with publishers because they love what you do. Stop backing away and looking suspicious. Just hug them.

  • 7. Say 'Thank You' properly

    The person who donated the crate and hat for Palmer's talk got to supply a photograph of him with both, saying Hello. This was no small print nod for a service rendered but a generous response to a human exchange. Make literal or metaphorical eye contact. Be grateful. You know you're doing it properly when people only want to help more as a result.

  • 8. You will be mocked

    Success leads to snark, especially online. But that's ok - snark is how the internet asks questions. The important thing is to have good answers. If your goals are respectful, thoughtful, honest, and you react to the snark accordingly with respect, thought and honesty, then you'll find that what starts as a cheap laugh actually brings more people to your side. Most people I know in publishing are in it because they truly believe in the importance and power of distributing stories. That's a heck of a powerful starting point. Focus on that, be honest about your mistakes, and don't panic when the snark starts to come. The thing most people don't realize about the internet is that it has an attention span of about half a day - and its snark is usually worse than its bite.

  • 9. One model does not fit all

    At no point in Amanda Palmer's talk does she say, "All musicians need to do this." She also doesn't say "all musicians should leave their labels." She understands the reluctance of others to adopt these methods, and accepts that there are other forms of musical celebrity. Her methods might not scale or be easily replicable. Many artists may be too afraid or unwilling to be as honest, approachable and public in their vulnerability - and their music might only appeal to an audience too small to make it a viable economic proposition. Amanda Palmer seeks out a particular kind of engagement with her audience, and has found that the traditional economic structure of the industry inhibits, rather than enables it. So she found one of many possible ways around it, one that worked for her and her band, and fitted perfectly with their live and recorded musical experience. There are others.

  • 10. This isn't about crowdfunding

    Yes, she raised a lot of money, but her talk isn't about 'how to make a living as an artist'. It's about how meaningful, two-way encounters are far more likely to come about when an artist dares to trust their audience, and thinks beyond a formula-driven financial transaction. For those writers brave enough to try it, publishers could help to enable such encounters - and those who dared to do so would be more likely to attract other such authors. If you're in it to make stories matter in people's lives, then perhaps the readers could help make it happen - if only you let them.

  • 11. Get naked

    Palmer stripped off all her clothes and gave a self-selected group, who had paid for the privilege, complete trust. And a pen. It was a highly controlled environment, but also a breathtakingly risky idea. What would it look like if a major publisher followed that path for a project or two? What kind of book might be published as a result?

(All images courtesy of TED)