Publishers, Stop Being Craven, Forge Your Own Future

For some time there has been a funny dichotomy in the publishing industry worldwide.

On the one hand publishers have decried the growing influence of powerful tech companies from outside the industry. Google, Amazon, Apple all fall into that category (Amazon aside from being an impressive online retailer is also an amazing tech company). They are feared and despised both as huge outside firms with enormous capabilities and cash compared with publishers and also as companies driving the industry in a direction it wasn’t keen on going.

On the other hand, various parts of the industry have gushed about the latest moves by these companies, Apple’s launch of the iPad as a media’s saviour, Google EBooks as a game changer or now, Google’s One Pass as a way to beat Apple’s new and restrictive trading terms for content bought in App by consumers.

Perhaps the only exception to this has been Amazon who, despite being one of the most innovative and reader friendly companies in the business, has been routinely lambasted. Even it’s clever and effective popularization of ebooks and ereading was seen as a BAD thing. Amazon, it seems, can do no right!

Well I’m sick of it. I tired of hearing the industry complain and point one minute then jump up and down in happiness at the anticipation of NEW things SAVING content the next. I’m tired of bad strategy decisions prompted by poorly thought out positions. I’m really bored with people arguing about why this or that needs protection and honestly I don’t care what Apple does next.

Lots of sensible people have been talking about what publishers should be doing to make their OWN way towards a sustainable future. Mike Shatzkin has written about it, so has Brian O’Leary, Don Linn and Kassia Krozser, many, many others have too. But none of it seems to impact the mainstream discussion.

  • Here’s a simple truth: the web (in particular digital distribution of content) is undermining the existing economic model for publishing
  • A second: the author is gaining power vis-a-vis the publisher
  • A third: the existing system cannot persist, the parts of the industry that don’t change, will fail
  • And a last one: YOU are responsible for your own future and it’s time you stopped waiting for someone else to make it happen

Digital content WILL dominate the future*. You don’t have to like that, but you DO have to accept it. When you accept that you’ll begin to see that the systems behind publishing need to change rapidly or else you need to create a new organisation to work within the new rules (and economic realities).

It’s time for the industry to stop worrying about Apple, Amazon and Google. It is time for the industry to just forget about all of them and to decide how it is going to bring stories to readers in a way that keeps it relevant, interesting and hopefully profitable or else to decide that it is going to grow old and die gracefully. In either case, I’m pretty sure it’s time to shut up and do it.

~~ ~~ ~~

*By that I don’t mean print will go away, it won’t, but just as letters have been superseded by email, phone calls and text messages, it will become less important. It will though, have a fascinating and interesting future and it may well be that it’s where your future lies if you decide to pursue certain strategies, but that is YOUR decision.

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7 comments

  1. Excellent points. And part of what gets in a publishers way, I think, is figuring out how to keep the cash coming in while they make the transition. The other thing that is in the way, in my opinion, is the weird precedence that the reading devices are taking over the actual reading experience. I love my iPad. And I love all things electronic. But it’s a device, and I find that it gets in the way of my reading and I keep going back to paper. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s the thing that’s in my way right now.

    1. I see that point, I love my Kindle because it’s pretty simple, much less to distract that a computer screen or a tablet!

      On the cash side, I might need to make that last paragraph more explicit. I think new entities will be better placed to take advantage of ebooks, even independent units within the larger publishers rather than trying to build it from the cost base of the existing enterprise.
      Eoin

  2. I was cheering you along as I read this. Fantastic! And nothing breeds innovation like the threat of being broke – the truly determined publishers will find a way through. Natural selection and all that.

  3. I like your closing paragraph about the need for the industry to figure out how ‘to bring stories to readers’ going forward. You hit the nail on the head. It is that simple and that difficult. Agree with Averill that the determined publishers will find the way through – with the determined writers.

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