A couple of blogs here have posted excerpts and comments from a Time Magazine story that attempts to explain the current status of publishing and predict its future. While the story promises revolutionary changes in publishing I have to say that I agree that change is in the air, but I do not agree with the magazine's premise, which is that technology--the Internet in particular--is having the same effect on book publishing that it is on newspapers and magazines.
First off, Time and Newsweek run these pieces all the time under headlines such as "What You'll be Reading, Watching, Doing, Wearing in Five Years." Not too surprisingly they are almost always wrong because the people writing the stories lack the expertise in the areas they write about to effectively slice through gimmicks, sales spin, manipulation, and etc. in order to get at the driving forces of what may actually be happening. Or the magazines hire supposed experts who have an ax to grind or a point of view to support making their analysis skewed toward whatver their bias is. The Time story on publishing is no different.
Secondly, the writer of the piece does not overtly state a relationship, but to readers and those in the industry--writers, editors, agents, publishers, et al--will not avoid making the connection. As the Internet has forced newspaper publishing and to a lesser extent magazines into turmoil, it will and is having the same impact on all forms of publishing. The main failure of this overarching premise is that newspapers are not books. People can easily and from any tech gadget--laptop, cell phone, PDA, and etc--access the news for free. The content that was once the element of the newspaper that gave it marketable value is now splashed all over the Internet for free. The conundrum that newspapers are now facing is that they must develop innovate on their business models and develop a new sense of what it is that they do--their core value proposition--and how they can extract value from that. This is not unique as nearly every other industry in the Internet age has had to go through a process of innovation and transformation. The difference for newspapers, though, is that given the nature of the product and industry they are in a very difficult situation with no answer easily in sight. They are suffering and will continue to suffer. And for the reasons listed in the paragraph above, journalists and others will use them as the poster child for all publishing.
Does that mean publishing is not going through profound change? Of course it is and it is in part being driven by the Internet as well as other technologies, but rather than being the end of publishing as we know it, it is enabling new business models and new opportunities to broaden the ability of readers to find content they enjoy as well as writers to deliver that content. For example, there are far more literary journals for people to publish in that provide a multimedia forum for writers, photographers, audio and videographers. As they compete for readership they will also compete for good writers.
There is also the point that while no longer the sole publishing medium, books are very popular commodities and have content that cannot be easily replicated online for free in the same way that news content can be. In addition, people do not want to have to wade through thousands of web posts to find content they want to read. There will always be a place for the weeding out process engendered by traditional agented publishing.
However, the big change is that as technology allows books to be published more cheaply rather than St Martin's contracting with a couple of very large printers, they will be able to contract with numerous printers serving smaller segments to cut down on delivery costs. And they will be able to use technology to target micro-markets for certain titles that serve the idiosyncratic or regional tastes for specific geographic communities. In addition, the web has and will offer an even better marketing channel allowing publishers as well as sites such as Amazone to engage in a more profitable long-tail model.
Reduced printing and transportation costs will also enable small, niche publishing houses to get in and participate in this long-tail by defining what it is that differentiates their brand and competing based on that. It could be content, price, service, authors, or any other element that gives their products value. So rather than limiting or reducing the scale of paying markets, technology can offer an opportunity to expand on the number of paying markets as customers are more able to find content that addresses their tastes. And there is also the fact that when content providers want to make money. Look at the most popular websites (in particular Web 2.0) they all make money and in some instances they offer an opportunity for users to make money as well.
The problem of the moment, though, is the massive economic contraction we are going through. Publishing like every other very large industry on the planet is being hit hard by tough economic times and in an age where most of these companies are publicly traded they have to serve the bottom line, which is profits. Therefore, prices will drop, people will be laid off, products will be limited to sure winners and etc. But it also means that the companies that will thrive are the ones that manage to innovate and create new business models that succeed within the current business context.
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.