“The future is here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” ~ William Gibson
In the midst of this digital publishing revolution, one of the major questions all publishers find themselves asking is what the future holds. This was the topic of conversation last Tuesday, at Pearson’s Future of Publishing event at RocketSpace in San Francisco, which I was fortunate to attend. The event was full of publishers, digital developers, authors and entrepreneurs, all anxious to hear the opinions of five influential panelists from different vectors of the industry.
The session was moderated by Nancy Ruenzel, Vice President of Pearson Technology Group and Publisher of PeachPit. Panelists included Peter Brantley, Director of the Bookserver Project Internet Archive; Rob Grimshaw, Managaing Director of FT.com; Matt MacInnis, Founder and CEO of Inkling; and Eileen Gittins, Founder, President, and CEO of Blurb. Energy in the room was high as these impressive panelists took the floor to shed some light on the destiny of traditional and digital publishing. Here are my major takeaways from the event:
When it comes to this digital revolution, we haven’t seen anything yet.
The first thing that immediately became clear in the discussion is that “future” is a relative term. Whether we are talking about the next generation, 3 to 5 years from now, or even today, the definition of where we are and what the future holds in this revolution depends on who you are talking to. If you ask a general audience, we all know that we are in the midst of a changing world. Almost every one of us has some type of smartphone device and a desire to take content with us at all times. It is clear that we are more plugged in than we have ever been before. If you ask a publisher, they will tell you that we are on a brink of a revolution in the way that we deliver content. The publisher/reader relationship is changing dramatically, and the industry must adapt accordingly. If you ask an influential developer, the future is already here.
“We can already do almost anything today, but we don’t do that yet,” Matt MacInnis stated, “You can’t go so far from the book that you uphand the way people are used to doing things.”
So what does this mean? The future doesn’t exist in the devices we hold in our hands today. In fact, the technology that we are fascinated with now is far too limited for where we are going.
There is fragmentation in what the future holds for different segments of publishing.
Another thing that became abundantly clear throughout the conversation was that we are hard-pressed to say that anything can replace the book.
“If you think about it,” said MacInnis, “the book as a device is probably the most important IT device ever invented. It is remarkable that books worked for travel guides, cookbooks, novels, etc.”
The other panelists agreed. Yes, the technology that we have developed is exciting, and in many ways can be used to replace the book. But the book will never be entirely replaced. Why? Because some things can just not be replicated. Even with today’s technology, there are certain specific situations in which a book is still the most practicable, functional IT device we have.
The future of publishing largely depends on what vector of publishing you are looking at. Newspaper publishers have a different fate and different opportunities than book publishers, or even magazine publishers. We can already see that these different areas of publishing translate differently on to the tablet.
Yes, there is a demand for new and exciting products, which publishers are thrilled and obligated to meet. Fortunately, it is still clear that as far as the book is concerned, we don’t have to worry about it disappearing entirely.
The future holds exciting opportunities, but there are problems to be solved first.
Anyone who has already dived into the world of digital publishing and released digital content can tell you that this is an equation we are still figuring out. For one thing, discovering content remains a huge issue. Yes, you can put your content onto these amazing new platforms, but it is a remarkable challenge to make it visible to the appropriate, interested audiences. There is an exciting opportunity to distribute, with lower prices and at higher volumes, but we are not sure exactly how to do that yet.
This is due in large part to “Amazon/Apple Oligopoly”, which was one of the major concerns addressed at the session. Publishers and developers are giving Apple a very large percentage of their profits because of the limited access to outlets. As it stands today, these platforms pretty much determine the fate of any one digital asset.
“Publishers have made some mistakes,” Rob Grimshaw said, “We have been far too passive with major platform providers. We have allowed them to define the market. The opportunity is there to redefine the space.”
Still, it seems that publishers are still waiting for someone to solve this equation. How do we interpret the data we have and use it to make our digital products more visible? How do we interact with our readers and customers more directly? This is one of the many questions that the future still holds.
Overall, the Future of Publishing event held at RocketSpace last week gave remarkable insight into the opportunities and problems that lie in digital publishing. We are very grateful to Pearson, RocketSpace, the panelists for taking the time to hold this important discussion. And a special thank you to Peter Brantley, for turning us on to the event.
Image Credits: girvin.com