Despite the fact that it’s had ten years to prepare, the publishing industry doesn’t have a new media plan. To suggest that the rapid changes appear to be blind-siding the industry might be harsh, but, yeah, it looks like someone got caught with their strategy down. As the world is changing — for proof, oh publishers, talk to your younger editorial staff — the industry remains mired in Old Ways.
For an example of what happens to an industry that refuses to acknowledge external change, please see the annals of music history, particularly the chapters on Napster and Kazaa.
While music has tentatively embraced — you know, one of those awkward hugs you give someone you don’t know or like very well — digital downloads, the publishing industry remains largely attached to physical product. Their entire business model is based on the manufacturing and distribution of physical product. After all, books have been with us, in one form or another since humans invented ink and a paper-like object. It is the thing that matters.
At BookExpo America 2006, Don Tapscott notes that while the Baby Boom generation is aging and the post-Boom generation is relatively small, the current generation — the Net Generation– rivals Boomers in size. This generation is also growing up digital. They have no fear of technology; they point, click, and search as if they were born to it.
And, if you trace the dawn of the modern web back to ’91-’92, many were.
The Net Generation and, to a larger-than-publishing-realizes extent, the generations that precede it reads. A lot. I say this quite often: today’s kids are consuming words constantly. If you’ve ever been to a bookstore on a Saturday afternoon, you know that these kids are not eschewing books. They’re picking up bound-and-printed material — sure, mostly manga right now — and reading.
But, as they read, they’re also texting, browsing, downloading, uploading, mashing, creating, and, in some cases, doing homework. While the publishing industry prefers to march through an orderly, well-defined distribution process, today’s media consumers find the rules restrictive, quaint, and bizarre. Why do hardcovers and paperbacks come out at different times? Aren’t they being purchased by different audiences? Who is being best served by this system — the industry or the consumer?
That was indeed a rhetorical question. We talk about this frequently, but it bears repeating. Today’s consumers demand choice and flexibility. Or as Tapscott and John Blossom note, it’s all about context.
When I’m curled up on the couch, it’s probably with a book or a magazine. When I’m on the road, I’m referencing my laptop more often. Out running errands? Cell phone.
Context also allows content provides to reach all manner of diverse audiences. We — the consumer — are not a monolithic block. I noted that hardcover and paperback audiences are different (with some overlap, sure). Consumers of media are wildly different, and are increasingly demanding to interact with entertainment in their own ways. And, yes, this includes the terrifying remixing concept that I’ll get to in another post. Context is the next big issue facing the publishing industry, and they’re nowhere near ready to address it.
Blossom notes that current distribution models are based upon scarcity. We do not yet live in a world of unlimited bandwidth, storage, and access. If you read any of the write-ups of BEA 2006, a common thread in the complaints was spotty and/or outrageously expensive wireless. In the past 15 years, we’ve gone from the thrill of actually making a dial-up connection to that expectation that we will be online as well.
So what does this mean for the publishing industry? Content matters, but only if presented in the right context. An entire generation of consumers is growing up with different expectations than previous generations. And technology should not be feared.
More on remixing later.