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What Happens When Everyone Can Publish


My good friend Mike Shatzkin (The Idea Logical Company) recently set forth a compelling rubric to describe what is happening in publishing now that digitally publishing books and other written content can be done by virtually anyone with interesting content.  Mike calls this the “atomization” of publishing.  He’s aimed his analysis at publishers to help them understand what is happening all around them, and also to help them crystallize their own thinking about what this explosion of publishing means for them and for their businesses, both now and in the future.

I’ve been thinking about Mike’s concept a lot, and think it can be refined just a bit.  The atomization of publishing is a key part of the molecularization of communication.

Traditionally, publishing of all kinds requires the organization of complex activities into structured businesses, reflecting the challenges of creating products for sale and distribution in the physical world.  

In a digital communications environment, “publishing” (“to make public”) can be made significantly simpler.  Yet, as most of us who have worked in publishing know, the digital publishing process still requires a considerable amount of organizing of resources, especially if you want to do more than to reach a tiny number of readers.

The chemical metaphor is apt.  Atoms are the most basic components of matter.  Molecules are next up the chain, and then increasingly complex amalgamations of molecules make up living organisms (and non-living matter as well).

Following this conceptual framework, I’d say that self-publishing authors are, as Shatzkin says, like atoms, while businesses and other organized entities that publish are more like molecules.  It’s likely we will soon see some of these simple molecules joining together to form compound complex molecules, either existing alongside, or themselves joining the more complex and organized compound entities like publishers and distributors.

Clearly there is a wide range of highly structured and organized entities in the publishing communications ecosystem.  Book and magazine publishers along with their rapidly evolving distributors and wholesalers are the most organized components in this system.   

Self publishing authors are really the building blocks of content.  They can operate on their own and likely will form molecular organizations between them.  Like atoms in the physical universe, authors are mobile and will frequently join each other to create different kinds of molecules.  The businesses, nonprofits and other larger forms that now can publish content that they create and own are more complex molecules – and sometimes like compound molecules - that as they grow and evolve can take on both the roles and structures of existing organisms – what we know today as publishers.

And in this continuously evolving chemical soup of modern communications, it is certain that new forms and combinations of publishing entities will emerge.  All involved will adapt or die.

(thanks to Joe Esposito, Jack Perry and Carolyn Pittis for reading this essay in various forms, and for helping me clarify my ideas)

Posted by David Wilk on 06/21 at 10:02 PM
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