Publishing in the Digital Age
March 4, 2009, 4:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

(NB: this has been sitting in drafts since early December.  I’ve decided to put it out there without any further editing.  I’ll be sure to highlight future edits if I decide to go that way.)

“Businesses don’t survive in the long term because old people persist in old behaviors; they survive because young people renew old behaviors”

Something tells me the answer to where the publishing industry is heading lies somewhere between here and here.  Of course 25-year-olds are consuming almost all of their media digitally and of course advising publishers to cater to a shrinking market is asinine, but how are publishers supposed to make money if the barrier to entry/distribution/consumption that has sustained them up to this point is in the process of being flattened?

Gleick’s wrong to indict Google, it isn’t the problem (this was inevitable, they simply had the desire and the capital to do it first/better).  He’s right to suggest there will always be a place for analog books, but not simply as aesthetic objects; the Kindle is an awesome device, but there’s something about a book that’s hard-to-place, yet very real, that hasn’t been replicated by any ebook yet.  In fact, I almost find hard to believe that it ever truly will.  Still, people like me are an increasingly marginal group (I’m no longer in this group as my Kindle 2 arrived two days ago).  Shirky’s right that catering to us probably isn’t a sustainable business model.

It would seem Shirky’s implicit recommendation, that publishers find out how people are consuming their product (digitally) and get it there, makes sense.  This direction will necessarily lead to a very dramatic shift in how the whole apparatus works (which he believes is inexorable anyway).  They’ll almost certainly need to content themselves with making a lot less money in the process (which I suppose is the answer to my initial question) and this will probably hasten the dramatic change to their model.

So I guess my question now is: can you honestly say a business has survived if it’s completely unrecognizable once it’s come out the other side?


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