Home » Disruptive Innovation, Hugh Howey » Publishing is More than Books

Publishing is More than Books

16 May 2014

From Hugh Howey:

The disruption of the publishing industry can be seen far beyond mere books. Trade publishing (general fiction and non-fiction books) are heavily impacted and get most of the attention, but think of all the other forms of publishing that have been hammered, some of them into near non-existence. Once you start looking, you see this impact everywhere:

  • There’s map and atlas publishers, which have been decimated by the GPS units in our cars and smartphones.
  • There are the phone books that we now throw straight into the recycling bin, replaced by Google and the like.

. . . .

The effect the internet is having on publishing cannot be fully appreciated, I don’t think. Publishing has long been about the transmission of language and knowledge. Digital does this better in so many ways. In fact, trade book publishing is somewhat protected by nostalgia and our fondness of books (it’s certainly true for me). While we wring our hands over the disruption in trade books, entire other swaths of the publishing industry are collapsing.

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Sandra for the tip.

PG will add that the publishing of paper books for various types of legal research, formerly an extraordinarily profitable undertaking, was destroyed by digital replacements around the turn of the century.

Disruptive Innovation, Hugh Howey

18 Comments to “Publishing is More than Books”

  1. When you say ‘turn of the century’ I always flash on 1900 and I think of my great-grandparents talking about the turn of the century.
    Sorry. Habit!

  2. Maps are an interesting example. At one time you had to buy a map at a garage, map store (if you wanted topo), or buy one at a bookstore (generally via an atlas or a travel book).

    Now, you can buy a paper map at the above, use a GPS, or download and print static maps from Google maps or similar sites, not to mention thousands of other websites (e.g. provided by local governments).

    Similarly for dictionaries. We used to have a favorite, beaten up dictionary. Now, the web is easier. Plus, your kindle or kobo will typically have half a dozen dictionaries bundled with them.

    Then there are encyclopedias. What is there to say, but Wiki.

    And on it goes.

    Here’s another – I used to have to go to the stacks at the university library to obtain statistical data. Now I get most of it from the web – e.g. Cansim, OECD, etc.

    • I have 10 pounds of dictionaries within easy reach of my writing chair. I can find any word I want before a dictionary website can even load up in my browser. And offline dictionaries are great when I’m in the middle of a first draft, because then I don’t want to be turning on the internet connection at all.

      My dictionaries were compiled by thoughtful people who cared about the language and took the time to leave me helpful notes on etymology and usage. One dictionary uses a star to mark every word that has an American origin. Another dictionary was a misprint edition, but it was misprinted in Scotland, so I can use it to quick-check UK English.

      If I need a Czech-English translation, I’ll usually go slovnik.cz. I have a Czech-English dictionary, but when I try to use it, I spend a lot of time picking its pages off the floor.

  3. When it comes to maps I despair over people who rely on GPS. They don’t know where they’re going, they are TOLD to go. They don’t (or can’t) read a proper map, they don’t have “the big picture” and thereby, have no sense of direction, and when GPS fails for one reason or another they get lost or drive off a cliff.

    Americans are, for the most part, geography challenged. Reliance on GPS makes them even more challenged.

    • Maps don’t get RAIM warnings in mid-flight and go to sleep. And you can follow your progress on a map, keep it, and use it to refresh your memories later on. GPS isn’t quite so romantic.

      • Robert Forrester

        Too true. The compass replaced navigation by stars, and GPS replaced the compass, but ask any sea captain where the north star is and he’ll be able to tell you. Technology is great, but if you forget the old skills, God help you when something goes wrong.

    • I like Mapquest with its list of roads and turns. But it also has an actual map. Gasp! And I like to refer to the map, so I know where I am, and use the listed route numbers to easily follow road signs.

    • A certain part of my job would almost be impossible without the GPS in my smartphone. I’ve found that to be the most valuable feature. Trying to constantly check a map of little back suburban streets while trying to drive would be a nightmare. I can read a map just fine, but now I don’t have to and I basically have a map of just about anywhere I want to go in my pocket. Right next to all the book I want to read. :)

    • About 50 or 60 years ago, a fellow in our neighborhood used to drive across the prairie once a summer hauling a truckload of hay. He did this for about 3 years. Somehow the “Hay Road” got onto a map. And then onto a GPS. So now, every year, hunters come out here and drive through our fence because the GPS tells them they are on a road.

    • Robert Forrester

      I know a guy who has worked at the same office for ten years and happily made his way to and fro for five of those. He then got a GPS system, and now, whenever he leaves home or work, he won’t set off until he programs his destination into it. I’m not sure why. He knows the route like the back of his hand. Some people are quite literally slaves to technology, and happily so.

      I refuse point blank to ever use one, and I’ve driven all round Europe and been gloriously lost more times than I care to remember, but that is the joy of travelling. You never find those little out the way places by sticking to the GPS route.

      • So why bother using a map at all?

        • Robert Forrester

          Because it is still a good idea to get where you are going eventually. I prefer finding my own way on a map than being told the way to go by a machine – that’s my wife’s job!

  4. Terrence OBrien

    Publishing is more than books. But the technology is more than publishing. Computers have provided tools that are replacing paper. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter why the paper was used. It gets replaced.

    Publishing produced, moved, and sold paper. That is what it was good at. With much less paper, there is much less to be good at.

  5. I haven’t cracked open a hard copy “yellow pages” in years. I still subscribe to the local paper, but after decades of 7 day a week paper, I am now Sunday only with online access, and I almost never read either (to the point I only keep the sub to support the journalists that keep investigating local corruption and such). I may cancel eventually. My altruism has budgetary limits.

  6. I have probably harped on this too much, but the notion that people buy books is roughly equivalent to the notion that people buy cardboard boxes. Buying empty cardboard boxes makes a lot more sense than buying an empty book (at least for most people).

    Trade publishers offer a way to get your story, idea, or knowledge to market. The main reason they are in trouble is that they do not understand that.

    • Terrence OBrien

      I’d say the main reason they are in trouble is because the decline in paper as a vehicle for market access diminishes the value of their competitive advantage. I bet they understand that far better than I do.

  7. I used to set up and run delivery routes for a couple publications I worked for and those county-by-county ADC map books were invaluable. However, in retrospect, I would have killed for something like the Google maps app on my smartphone (none of which existed at the time). That job would’ve been a thousand times easier.

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