I’m reading John Thompson’s fascinating study of the publishing industry and finding much of relevance in it. One particularly useful idea is how the concept of ‘platform’ is used within publishing. On pg 86:
‘Platform’ is a term that has become particularly prevalent in the world of New York trade publishing in recent years, though the same considerations come into play in London even if the term is used less frequently. Essentially, platform is the position from which an author speaks – a combination of their credentials, visibility and promotability, especially through the media. It is those traits and accomplishments of the author that establish a pre-existing audience for their work, and that a publisher can leverage in the attempt to find a market for their book. As one agent put it, ‘platform means what kind of built-in audience is this writer bringing that can guarantee a certain number of book sales.’ Platform is important for all kinds of books but it is particularly important for non-fiction, especially for certain types of non-fiction like fitness and diet, where ‘the author absolutely has to have a national platform to sell the book these days.’ If an author regularly appears on national television or has a syndicated newspaper or magazine column, this gives them a high-profile platform which creates a pre-existing potential market for their book.
The concept is a useful one for understanding the challenges academics face when using social media. It also helps illuminate scholarly publishing as a whole. Who has a platform? Who gets to build one? What role are there for platforms run by intermediaries? How do different types of resources manifest themselves in different types of platforms?