While discussing the future with a colleague yesterday I accidentally said something that had been swimming in my head for some time. It was a simple idea, that maybe the current change is not really the CHANGE but the symptom of change that happened some time ago and the following through of all the implications of that change.
That change as I see it was the ability to easily create data in digital format. Simply being able to sit at a computer and write a document and rewrite, easily cut and paste elements within the document, send it to others with complete ease (and relatively cheaply) combined with the ability to post that data to a public audience without marked technical skills is the essential basis for this explosion in blogs and e-books and digital news.
Without the ability to write thoughts, profound or banal, easily and with features that masses of people can use, the internet would be a poorer place.
It was a comment by Emily Bell in a podcast that Jeff Jarvis directed vistitors to his blog to that really struck home. She talked of an industrial revolution phase. Now that is perhaps an over statement of the case but it strikes me that this technological change is a good example of Amara’s Law that:
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
And it’s not just on the content supply side that the effect of the digital change is evident in publishing. Book publishers themselves have taken advantage of the change and are doing so even more. Layout and design done on computer has been with us since the 1980’s and it has been as much responsible for the revolution as easily exploitable digital content. It is now easier by far to exploit that content and to create inexpensive multiple versions of the content for use in a variety of contexts jobs previously done in a laborious way have become simple and mundane (and this has resulted in massively increased numbers of new titles per year as the cost of design and production came down).
That is why the article I read today here by Tom Coates made so much sense in terms of publishing.
It does mean that change is happening just not at the frenetic pace we assume and that the source and causes of this change are more prosaic than the currently fixated upon sources.
There are other implications too. It means that most publishing firms should have a better idea than they do of the direction that publishing is heading; and perhaps they do, they just aren’t telling us. In many ways if one had sat down a few years ago and considered the ease of creation, the ease of using layout and design programs that projects like lulu.com could have been foreseen and challenged.
So publishers should relax? Or rather prepare and watch, think and be ready to act when it becomes necessary (As the Guardian has impressively with Commentisfree! Or if you have foresight, resources and ability (and a good idea) pre-epmpt all the newcomers and act before them.