GigaOM recently published this article detailing a new program from Amazon regarding some of their Kindle books. The upshot is that readers can post questions directly to the authors' Twitter accounts from within the book itself, which could be answered by the author and/or other people who've read the book. (I'll point out that Brad Meltzer is specifically cited as one of the participating authors.) It also allows readers to follow other readers of the same book.
One of the key points in the article is that publishers are being pushed aside in this process even more since they're no longer a gatekeeper between authors and their audience. While Amazon is making that barrier more easily circumvented, they're not really doing anything that isn't already possible as a function of existing technologies. After all, the participating authors are those with existing Twitter accounts, so readers could already shoot questions to them without the publisher getting in the way. What Amazon is doing here isn't really all that radical.
Except, of course, that it's making publishers confront and acknowledge the realities of book publishing in the 21st century. Namely, that publishers themselves are less relevant. They've historically held authors in something akin to an ivory tower, only letting them out with agents/handlers on book junkets with large chain stores. But authors, by and large, don't want that. They want that interaction with their readers. They want that feedback. My MTV column that will go live tomorrow (#28: The Feedback Loop) in fact is all about creators soliciting feedback from their fans.
Now, the article doesn't cite any publishers who are calling foul or anything. For all I know, they're completely ignorant of the new feature. Regardless, it's another handy indicator of how traditional book publishers are slow to adapt to a changing environment. I think there's still a place for publishers in the 21st century book market, but it's a very place than where they've been. And, frankly, I'm not seeing any of the major players making any appreciable changes.
Comic book publishers -- at least Marvel and DC -- do have the advantage of owning their characters, so they'll be around at least as long as the copyrights hold. And with both of those companies now being held by Disney and Time Warner respectively, I don't doubt that they'll throw more than a few lobbyists around Washington to extend the copyrights indefinitely.
But any publisher that doesn't own their material should be asking themselves, "Why are we here?" I don't mean that facetiously. I mean that they seriously need to sit down and figure out what the role of publishers are going forward, because I think those who try to keep doing what they've been doing are going to start dying out.