Brian O’Leary writes a long piece primarily focused on publishers. He’s trying to get them to quit thinking about books, magazines or newspapers so they’re not destroyed by self-publishers
You see, although this blog is focused on the changes taking place in what we call “books,” everybody in the commercial word business is being disrupted. Magazines and newspapers – aggregators of small and smaller groups of words centered around a particular theme – have, of course, seen their business models decimated by online aggregators of words – blogs, The Drudge Report, etc., etc., etc.
Books took longer because reading War and Peace on a computer screen is beyond the capacity of all but those on the fringes of normality. You needed a slate, a pad, an ereader – a different form factor that accommodated the human body and its physical limitations – before consuming the large collection of words we call a book was a reasonable possibility. This big-bunch-of-words consumption device is in the process of becoming ubiquitous.
One factor that characterizes all successful online entrants is they pay close attention to their customers. What links are clicked, what stories are read? Even a modest undertaking like The Passive Voice has a sidebar that displays its most popular posts as chosen by its readers. This is both a help to visitors and an aid to Passive Guy in deciding what sorts of new posts to create.
Big Publishing is really a wholesaler to bookstores, not a retailer to customers. Big Publishing understands the book buyers at Barnes & Noble very well. Transforming itself into a business that understands readers as well as Amanda Hocking does is going to be a large (impossible?) task.
Anyway, back to Brian O’Leary. Almost. One more thing that is interesting to me is that Clayton Christensen first published his best-selling book on disruptive change in 1997 and began writing about fundamental principles of disruption in scholarly articles in about 1993. The high tech world was sucking in the implications of disruption as fast as it could during the late 1990’s. Only now, over ten years later, is the publishing business discovering that it can be disrupted as well.
Now back to Brian.
My idea in a nutshell is this: book, magazine and newspaper publishing is unduly governed by the physical containers we have used for centuries to transmit information. Those containers define content in two dimensions, necessarily ignoring that which cannot or does not fit.
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We need to think about containers as an option, not the starting point. Further, we must start to open up access, making it possible for readers to discover and consume our content within and across digital realms.
Without a shift in mindset, we are vulnerable to a range of current and future disruptive entrants. Containers limit how we think about our audiences. In stripping context, they also limit how audiences find our content.
Here, scale is not our friend. It may well be the enemy. As Clay Christensen first outlined in 1997, disruptive technologies don’t look or feel like what we typically value. Often enough, they are cheaper, simpler, smaller and more convenient than their traditional analogues.
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As barriers to entry have fallen, I’ve started to think more about how traditional book, magazine and newspaper publishers can survive in a digital era. There are both new and non-traditional established entrants across most publishing segments. Their successes have pushed traditional publishers to look at ways to change business models and organize around customers.
It is time to see our publishing brethren – newspapers and magazines – as part of a disrupted continuum that affects us all. Digital makes convergence not only possible; digital has made convergence inevitable. Marketers have become publishers; publishers are marketing arms; new entrants are a bit of both. Customers have become alternately competitors, partners and suppliers.
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And imagine a world in which content can be disseminated in a range of formats, at the figurative or literal push of a button.
That world exists today, with literally dozens of credible, widely accessible tools and resources. These authoring, repository and distribution tools and resources make it possible for anyone to create, manage and disseminate digital as well as physical content.
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While publishers think of agile workflows as an opportunity to drive down the cost of making content for containers, a newer breed of “born-digital” competitors have started with context. These new entrants are developing taxonomies and tools so that they can invade the same niches we thought we were making more efficient.
The challenge is not just being digital; it’s being demonstrably relevant to the audiences who now turn first to digital to find content.
New entrants – our real competition – start with the customer. They develop contextual frameworks that help them differentiate both readers and themselves. The new guys like the new tools because they are cheap, scalable and open-source. In fact, they are already exploiting tools that many traditional publishers lament are “just too hard to learn”.
Link to the rest at Magellan Media Consulting Partners