We’ve invited [the big guys in publishing] in for meetings, and while we’re talking we sort of give them a little quiz, in the form of a very simple question: Where do you think publishing is going? Most of them can’t see anything other than what they’ve done in the past. To them this is all just another blip, a little shift in their business, like going from black-and-white newspapers to color, or going from broadsheet to tabloid.
But that’s not it at all. We’re talking about an entirely new way to convey information, one that incorporates dynamic elements (audio, video) with static elements (text, photos) plus the ability for the “audience” to become content creators, not just content consumers.
The funny thing is that the publishing guys still consider themselves the “creative” side of the business, even though they’re the ones with no vision. In their minds, we techies are just a pack of drones. And they wonder why, in this new digital age, we’re reaping most of the financial rewards.
(A computer company is now the #1 music retailer, remember.)
Brian Lam, in a related post on Gizmodo, talks about the possibility of an Apple tablet and how it could give Apple the pole position in the e-reader space:
The eventual goal is to have publishers create hybridized content that draws from audio, video, interactive graphics in books, magazines and newspapers, where paper layouts would be static.
This continues to bang on the theme of disruptive innovation, I’m afraid. Incumbents are too married to their old markets, habits, cash flows, and management pathways to not be vulnerable. Meanwhile, new entrants are inspired, customer-focused, acquiring talent and skills right and left, and happy with smaller initial revenues and margins.
But it goes deeper than that. Companies like Apple, Amazon, Smashwords, Adobe, Automattic (makers of WordPress), Sony, and the hundreds and thousands of feeder firms and millions of users of the communication tools and platforms they’ve built would probably already dwarf the publishing industry in aggregate revenues, and certainly outflank us in strategic clarity, funding capacity, and engineering capabilities. It’s especially obvious when you consider that publishers used to specialize in the technology and distribution systems of publishing. In fact, moreso than with content, things are what traditional publishers monetized (“. . . the publishing world is not genuinely concerned with ideas and authors, it’s concerned with selling objects (books, magazines, etc.)”). People paid for professionally finished goods (skeptical people might want to know how antagonistic people are of blogger journalists even if they’re the same people they believe in print), and advertisers paid for broad, reliable distribution.
Now, customers pay for different packages (software programs and data services), and advertisers are shifting to more efficient forms of distribution.
So maybe this isn’t about disruption that’s going to happen. It could be about disruption that has already happened. Perhaps we’re already on the other side of the breach. Even certification is shifting from journals to search engines, linking registries, and other sources of apomediation. Our customers are slowly realigning their world views to match.
So, while it will take a while for the full effects to be felt in niche areas like STM publishing, the power, capacity, money, talent, reach, and ambitions of these large companies might mean that the point of no return has passed. The frog in the warming pan of water may already be cooked. Or, as someone once so eloquently stated (warning: contains a swear):
Game over, man. Maybe we can build a fire and sing songs.
(Thanks to DC for some pointers.)