What does it really mean to think like a publisher?

Thanks to the great work of people like Kristina Halvorson, Rachel Lovinger and others, content strategy has emerged as a key element of marketing today. For many businesses and organizations the focus on content brings a new and unfamiliar challenge: to think like a publisher. Experts may advise you to create a blog, an e-mail newsletter, videos, audio podcasts, presentations, or white papers.

Wait a minute, you might be saying, I work for a travel agency—or a candy shop, a library, a dry cleaning company, a day care center; (insert your business here). We’re too busy to be a publisher, we have a business to run.

There are different kinds of publishers. I think the correct model for thinking like a publisher is book publishing, rather than, say, newspapers. In the 1990s I worked for Simon & Schuster, the world’s largest book publisher at the time. It was an immense company that published tens of thousands of books each year. The company didn’t employ a single writer. Writers were contractors. No benefits. No retirement plan.

The company’s employees were editors, designers, production staff, copyeditors, marketers, a sales force—in other words, all the people required to support the company’s core competency: manufacturing and distributing books. The books themselves, however—that is, the content—were created by the authors.

So when you are told to think like a publisher, that doesn’t mean you are supposed create all the content yourself. Does that seem less daunting? I hope so. Your role is to be the editor-in-chief and distributor of the content.

That’s where the analogy ends. Remember, you are only thinking like a publisher, and in this role you are more of a curator than a producer.