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Publishing Needs to Learn from Newer Industries

4 March 2016

From Digital Book World:

The publishing industry is more than 400 years old. To put that timeframe into context, in the UK, when the first printing press was developed, in 1634, Charles I was king shortly before being overthrown. Much has happened since then, and there is much to be proud of in what this key industry has achieved over that time.

Over just the last decade, there has been an unmistakeable growth of other creative sectors, such as gaming, which is a mere 40 years old. While there is no doubt the gaming industry can learn from publishing’s history, it would be hard to argue that there is presently more to learn for publishing from this dynamic, slick and rapidly growing sector. And furthermore, there are the not-quite-as-spritely but newer advertising and design industries, as well as the older-but-now-hugely-evolved sectors of arts and music that also have much to offer.

Going back to gaming, though, it quickly becomes clear how slick—if not ruthless—its ordering is. Publishing, by comparison, is over-complicated, with a winding and circling chain of authors, publishers, agents, sub-agents, distributors, retailers, wholesalers—the list goes on. It has been apparent for some time that as the book market has fallen out of its bubble and is competed with on all sides, it needs to become simpler and more efficient. Intermediaries in particular are having to increasingly justify their role.

. . . .

When we look at what these other sectors are doing, the key lesson starts to shine through: most of the above examples demonstrate a move away from product and toward content. We are not referring to games, CDs, DVDs and pictures; we are talking about licensing, subscriptions, permissions and re-use.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

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23 Comments to “Publishing Needs to Learn from Newer Industries”

  1. DBW apparently does not know how to use Wikipedia. William Caxton brought the printing press to Westminster in 1476, but books were already being “published,” in the sense of being professionally produced in more than one copy/edition. The Stationers Guild dates back to 1403, producing and circulating bespoke books.
    Video games are new; they got that much right.

  2. To put that timeframe into context, in the UK, when the first printing press was developed, in 1634, Charles I was king shortly before being overthrown.

    When the first printing press was developed in 1634, Charles I had been King of England, Scotland, and Ireland for 9 years and was 15 years away from execution.

    While there is no doubt the gaming industry can learn from publishing’s history, it would be hard to argue that there is presently more to learn for publishing from this dynamic, slick and rapidly growing sector.

    While the game industry can learn from publishing, there is more for publishing to learn from the more dynamic game industry.

    And many more edits. I think in the game industry sentence the writer said the opposite of the intended meaning. I think. I still can’t quite puzzle it out.

    ETA: Anna Castle above found other errors while I was writing, but I’ll let this stand as my first impression.

  3. I think they took lessons from Michael Tamblyn on this one …

    Gaming is not ’40 years’ old. Charles I’s guards most likely spent some of their off time throwing bones or rolling dice.

    Now ‘digital’ gaming might be considered 40 years old — just like digital ‘publishing’ …

    What ‘Digital Book World’ seems to have missed is the early digital gaming was mostly ‘self-published’ a couple guys made a game and tried to sell/give it away, the big companies came later.

    “Publishing, by comparison, is over-complicated, with a winding and circling chain of authors, publishers, agents, sub-agents, distributors, retailers, wholesalers—the list goes on.”

    Not anymore! Writer, online for free or paid distributor, reader.

    The only people thinking it’s still over-complicated are those doing their best to ignore self-publishing. Like ‘Digital Book World’ it seems.

    • I’m going to go with “digital gaming.” Ye Olde Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, etc. played board and dice games. And they did sell books; Martial mentioned buying copies of him in the codex format. Although, there were apparently no royalties. Anna above has already covered the printing-press era.

      Agreed the article could have spent more time on self-publishing. But publishers need to understand that with two exceptions, publishing houses are not brands. Readers won’t come to them, we follow the writer. And the writer better be in a convenient store. And not priced high enough to send the reader to the library instead. But publishers are determined not to learn that lesson, and it’s not clear they’re interested in learning anything at all.

      Also, if y’all read to the bottom — I think the guy writing this article is selling something. I can’t tell exactly what, though. I’m not going to Google; he’s not doing a good job of selling his own expertise.

      • Archaeologists have found small carved stones they interpret as gaming pieces, from many thousands of years before the Greeks et al.

      • @ Jamie & Deb

        I just liked the way they tried to claim one was so very old and the other so very new.

        Both got shaken up when computers reached the masses, though the gaming companies adapted better I think.

  4. It’s a self-promotion puff piece typical of industry magazines. Does Digital Book World pay such writers in $$$ or advertising space?

  5. The big difference between games and books is that game companies embraced digital distribution as a way to reduce costs and eliminate middlemen. They didn’t charge twice as much for a digital copy of the game as they did for the DVD, in order to keep the less-profitable physical distribution infrastructure in business.

    Not to mention that a PC game that’s $70 at launch with $50 of optional addons will be discounted to $5 for the whole package in the ‘Game Of The Year’ edition at Christmas two years later.

  6. The publishing industry has learned spectacularly well. It has expanded and changed to the point where there are now more books available to more people at lower prices than at any time in history.

    • Now, now, Terrence. That isn’t THE publishing industry. That’s just a bunch of untalented wannabes who can throw anything they want up on Amazon. 😉

      • Now, now, Robert. The way the qig5 and their lapdogs are whining, you’d think Amazon was the only ‘publishing industry’ that matters anymore. 😉

        (and what scares them even more is the numbers of buyers/readers that seem to agree!)

      • I get the idea a subset of independent authors consider themselves outside of the publishing industry. They are right in the middle of it. If the publishing industry is the enemy, then Pogo put it best. “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

        • Felix J. Torres

          I think of it as the Publishing Establishment, the whole politico-industrial complex of multinational publishers, old media, and their paid-for politicians. Plus their pilot fish hangers-on like consultants and apologist pundits.

          Indies may be in publishing but for now are mostly outside the establishment. Once the disruption plays out Indies will become part of the establishment but that’s not happening just yet.

          The closest previous example of what is happening is the PC Revolution of the 70’s and 80’s that started with techies and hobbyists promoting a new technology that inched its way into the business world and gave rise to new ways to run businesses and in the process created a market for consumer grade shrink wrap packaged software, a business that simply couldn’t exist without the PC. Companies that started selling strips of paper tape or floppies in baggies very quickly (a bare decade) evolved into large companies on the strength of one or two programs. Another decade after that, the newcomers had become the new establishment, just in time for the internet to start a whole new disruption. And now, twenty years after that, a third revolution is ramping up around the combination of gadgets and online services.

          The traditionalists may not like it but once high tech stomps into an industry change comes fast and furious. And right with it is steely-eyed capitalism. And math. Lots of math and spiders. 😉

        • Speaking as one of that subset: I am not part of the publishing industry. I am part of the book industry. The publishing industry consists of those persons and firms that act as intermediaries between writers and booksellers.

  7. I think the comparison of “gaming” to publishing is an apples to oranges comparison. For gaming, there is a clear distinction between the experience of “traditional” (board) games and digital games. That distinction is practically non-existent between traditional and digital books.

    And while the comparison between traditional music versus digital might be a little closer, music itself is enjoyed much differently than literature. The average song is less than 4 minutes long, the average album is less than an hour so we are much less invested.

    To me, a better comparison would be to the movie industry, which seems to be embracing digital quite well, though I am sure there are a number of people who still enjoy a more traditional medium such as live theater.

  8. Ypou can play a video game over and over. Most of us only read a novel once.

  9. I think the thing that continues to hack me off is the tendency to use the term “publishing” to mean “us, the Five, the Knights of the Holy Grail.” There is a world of publishing outside their mindset. They don’t speak or write as though indie and small-press publishing exists at all. Those groups of publishing are far more nimble and market-responsive than the Five can hope to be. Or seemingly want to be.

    Statistically speaking, there must be those in the Suit Suites among the Five who recognize that a larger marketplace exists. Maybe those few privately feel that exclusivity’s day is over, and the “publishing industry” encompasses a great deal more than they’re willing to admit. Statistically, a FEW of them must be smarter than they look. Right?

    Right?

    • Statistically speaking, there must be those in the Suit Suites among the Five who recognize that a larger marketplace exists.

      Statistically speaking, out of all the odd numbers, there must be some that are divisible by two. Except it doesn’t work that way; those are eliminated by the criteria of selection.

      If you have room in your head for the idea of a larger marketplace, the Five don’t want you in their Suit Suites.

      • Felix J. Torres

        Or, at a minimum, talking in public.
        I would never assume that those people actually believe everything they say. Some may very well be as clueless as they sound but they could just be campaigning for the hearts and minds of dreamers. And retailers.
        After all, what might booksellers do if they were to believe that in a generation (or less) pbooks might become a tiny niche in a world of online publishing? Nothing good for tradpub.
        A lot of establishment-speak needs very careful parsing because it rarely means what they seem to be saying.

        • I have met and talked to a good many publishing people, though only one or two of them were senior executives. They were generally more clueless than they sounded. Such people, like politicians and PR flacks, are apt to combine a flair for plausible rhetoric with a radical inability to identify real problems, let alone solve them.

  10. Well now, need and action are two different things, aren’t they! 🙂

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