The most exciting writing about the future of the book business I have read in a long time
Every once in a while you find that someone has said better many things you have been thinking and writing about. Sara Lloyd at thedigitalist.net (Pan Macmillan (UK)’s excellent blog) has been posting a series of six pieces comprising a long essay called A Book Publisher’s Manifesto. Section V went up today. I recommend going back to the beginning of the series and reading it all. What struck me most is her focus on the idea of the book itself being in the process of change. I think most of us in the book business, even those of us who have embraced Web 2.0 concepts, are still not recognizing the huge potential for transformation that is upon us. Marketing physical, digital audio or e-books using modern web based marketing tools is almost peripheral to the real changes we are experiencing. Which are that publishing is changing fast now, both in terms of defining what the "product" is, and redefining the relationships between creators, consumers and intermediaries.
Here is a quote from Part I of Sara’s manifesto:
In an ‘always on’ world in which everything is increasingly digital, where content is increasingly fragmented and ‘bite-sized’, where ‘prosumers’ merge the traditionally disparate roles of producer and consumer, where search replaces the library and where multimedia mash-ups – not text - holds the attraction for the digital natives who are growing up fast into the mass market of tomorrow, what role do publishers still have to play and how will they have to evolve to hold on to a continuing role in the writing and reading culture of the future? Will there even be a writing and reading culture as we know it, tomorrow? Is the publishing industry acting fast enough and working creatively enough to adapt to the new information and leisure economies?
Another bite that resonated for me:
And whilst the edges of the book become more porous, the concept of a ‘book as unit’ slowly disappears further into history, new business models are already emerging. The value in the chain moves from a model which intertwines content with distribution to a model which simply values the content.
And as a new generation of readers interacts with texts online publishers will be wise to place themselves in a position to harness the network data and collective intelligence produced by social annotation and media creation, the sum of the “Wisdom of Crowds,” and to apply this to its future content development and to its marketing.
Publishers need to work quickly to define what the quintessence of publishing is, what the core value provided by the publisher is beyond the technicalities of matching content with readers. When pressed to think about this, much of what publishers have to offer beyond the technicalities is qualitative rather than quantitative: stewardship, consultancy, an imprimatur. Will authors continue to value these things enough to believe that publishers are critical to the publication of their works?
I will look forward to the final post in the series. And invite my friends and colleagues to comment - let me know what you think of all this.