Day: April 20, 2006

RSS the unknown?

My enthusiasm for RSS was dashed somewhat the other day when I shared the link to the Pulse book website with a discussion group I am a member of. The group is made up of college graduates, all former debaters and all pretty web enabled and tech minded. Most would surf daily.

Few if any knew what the hell I was talking about when I mentioned the RSS feeds and most resorted to the e-mail solution http://www.pulsethebook.com offers.

If this group of guys is uniformed and turned off RSS then it will be an outrageously difficult task to turn even less web ready folk engaged in the use of RSS and feeds in general.

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Trend or Fad, spark of momentary fancy or long lived change in the market?

In publishing (like many industries) it is often difficult to see what fashions are here to stay, which to pass quickly having chalked up huge growth and profits for some companies and which are merely illusions of growth and as soon as the hype dies so do sales and revenues.

This is particularly true of publishing currently when technology seems to be steeping up a gear and book publishers are faced with a fear of change so rapid that their old market dries up seemingly rapidly. Those of you who read Jeff Jarvis’s blog, Buzzmachine, will see how he predicts the newspaper publishing industry will fare on this front. It is not a pretty sight, shrinking revenue, legacy newspapers faced with hard decisions and challenged by young companies with new talent, fresh ideas and cheaper (worse still often free) and more accessible products.

The record industry resisted technology and change for so long it allowed apple to move in on its turf and set itself up as the largest music retailer online and perhaps as more music sales are driven online soon to be the largest music retailer full stop.

Indeed some of the links this blog has linked to suggest many possible threats to publishers and their profits as do some of the new technologies that are cropping up.

One theme seems to be pushing through the fog of hype, chatter and din, that is that content, is moving to the edge. By edge it seems people mean the consumers or on the vast (appropriately a new aggregating search engine named Vast launched recently) un-regimented nucleated masses. No more nicely defined markets of huge proportions, no more demographics that make the mouths of marketing executives’ water. Now markets are increasingly small focussed and difficult to reach. Certainly it is difficult and expensive to create a mass or even large market

Mark Cuban in his blog suggests that:

In an ala carte world, the cost of reaching an audience is outrageous. And consumers aren’t ready to pay the freight to receive that programming.

The rest of his post is excellent and really worthwhile reading for both internet and book publishers.

You might wonder why this blog concentrates so much attention on internet and web technology when it is a distinctly publishing focussed (and book publishing at that) site. The logic is that the internet is a driver of change in the book publishing industry, first sales (the easiest to tackle I think) currently production in the shape both of vanity publishers (or maybe we should say non-traditional publishing. See lulu.com or blurb.com) and the new frontiers of outsourcing opened by web-transfer of files and Electronic proofs. Now the marketing of books is moving online in innovative ways (pulse) and include Google Book Search which in many ways is just another advertising tool for publishers. Even mobile phones are being used to target audiences it seems.

With news newspapers and media companies are tackling citizen journalists and having to deal with a certain amount of democratisation of the press. Book publishing is still short of this problem. In one way though several of the sites I have mentioned do certainly tackle that notion, an author who uses Lulu.com has no need for a publisher in the traditional sense. Indeed some innovative companies almost seem like citizen publishers themselves (I was trying to link to http://www.thefridayproject.co.uk but the lin simply refuses to work and the site appears to be down anyway) and have attracted considerable attention.

So what if any of this is faddish, what is trend? For now it is hard to tell and that is why this industry is so exciting. This blog will try over the weeks and months ahead to get behind the hype and buzz and figure out what is going on.

A most pertinent comment I spotted on one of my favourite blogs Gigaom by Om Malik was by his friend Bill Tai, general partner at Charles River Ventures who said:

publishing is a few moguls make a lot of money off the people who love to write.

Mostly I agree with this analysis and wonder will the apparent trend for diffusion, market breakdown and shift in control to the edge actually result in change sot this or simply hide the fact in a greater cloud of hype, buzz and foggy din?