Final Essay

1. ‘It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.’ (Clay Shirky, ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’)

Digital and Networked media – replacing the publishing industry?

“The written word—incised in clay, inked with a quill, printed on presses or transmitted as electronic bits in email—has always been at the heart of capturing and disseminating human knowledge.” (Behar et al. 2011 pg. 1)

According to Mike Shatzkin, “publishing will become a function of many entities, not a capability reserved to a few insiders who can call themselves an industry.” (Shatzkin 2013) As an industry which used to be reserved for those with the resources to publish printed content on a large scale, publishing can no longer threaten writers that its is not possible to put books on shelves or stories in the media without them as an intermediary. This is simply no longer the case with only a quarter to a half of book sales now requiring a publisher to get a space on the shelves.

With the rise of digital and networked media this dissemination has now shifted to e-readers, tablets and other digital platforms which increase the ease of making content public, could be owned by 15-12 per cent of the developed world by 2015, triggering an overwhelming change in the publishing industry and creating new trends in the creation of content. Before the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle and as recently as 2007, there were no e-book sales and over 85% of printed books were sold in stores. (Behar et al. 2011)

The breaking down of the barriers between creating content and taking it into the public sphere is threatening the livelihood of traditional publishing companies.  “The absence of convenient e-reading platforms had protected books from such a revolution until recently. However, the emergence of new mass market devices, such as dedicated e-book readers or multipurpose tablets, has put an end to that reprieve.” (Behar et al. 2011 pg., 2) Shatzkin refers to publishers as anachronisms, estimating that in 10 years from now most of the gatekeepers of the print industry won’t even be working for publishing companies. (Shatzkin 2013) With the expanding online universe of bloggers, independent news sites and aggregators this figure is not unimaginable but almost expected by many.

Despite the fact that e-publishing may have been created to solve the industries biggest headache – ensuring publishers retain the ability to charge for content, (Patokallio 2013) according to author and financial times columnist Tim Harford  “If you let Amazon and Apple lock in their devices, they are going to slaughter all of you. (Budden 2013) Entrepreneur and also a Financial Times columnist Luke Johnson believes that software, particularly that produced by Google, Amazon and Apple, “has become a very serious threat that may well eat” the publishing business. (Budden 2013) Similarly Victoria Barnsley, chief executive of HarperCollins UK, emphasises “single platform domination” as “the risk”. “I don’t think it was good for the record industry nor will it be good for publishing.” (Budden 2013)

 Although e-books provide publishing industries with huge cost savings on staff and production, it has been destructive on its reputation as the lone pathway to selling printed books. Authors now bypass traditional publishing methods opting to self publish and even those who sign with publishers often focus on digital platform routes requiring much less publisher output and reducing expenses.

“We have authors who sell only 500 in hardback and sell 120,000 in e-books.” Caroline Michel, chief executive of literary agents Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. (Budden 2013)“Even the most sober industry observers are seeing revenues exceeding 50% from e-books in the next two or three years, which would mean that substantially more than half the units of these books are selling electronically. “ (Shatzkin 2012)

 Publishers have now come to terms with the fact that people want quality content in a digital and more engaging format for a better price. This begs the question of how to improve printed content in a way that people are willing to pay for to maintain the industries reputation as publishers of content unlike no other. It has been proposed that adding videos, sound, music and various degrees of interactivity and collaboration to digital reading platforms could be the answer. Long-term value in digital reading will not come from simply converting the physical page into digital text, the greatest opportunity for publishers in the digital revolution involves improved reader interaction and new forms of publishing content. (Behar et al. 2011)

Barnsley predicts e-books will “reinvigorate the novel format, with readers able to select multiple endings or follow certain characters.” (Budden 2013) The possibility that e-publishing could ignite increased passion in reading is supported by a survey of almost 3000 consumers by Bain & Company showed that e-reader owners often read more with the vast majority of these willing to pay for their content. Also, those who have converted to digital formats say they continue to read printed versions, even including those respondents from the younger generations. (Behar et al. 2011)

Things are not so bright however for the press industry. The research showed that most online readers want free content and are only willing to pay for premium content such as financial information, local news and investigative journalism. Regardless of device, consumers today expect ubiquitous, instantaneous and free information. Nearly 90 percent of those we surveyed only read free news content online. For those with digital tablets, only 10 percent say they would pay for news.” (Behar et al. 2011 pg. 8) This means that readers bypass traditional print publishers to access other forms of news which are easily created through networked and digital technology. The notion of receiving news in Australia from sources other than the main media corporations before the Internet was rare.  Converting to news to digital mediums is however just an additional distribution channel and does not necessarily solve the fundamental problems of the press industry and its need to redesign its business model as a whole. (Behar et al. 2011)

Considerations for the future

Clay Shirky argues that various plans of the 90’s aimed to preserve old forms of media in a world of “cheap copies”. The general idea behind all outcomes “save the unthinkable” was that the “existing organisational form of the newspaper as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift.” (Shirky 2009)

Traditional media were not caught off guard with the arrival of the Internet, in reality they saw it long before its arrival and knew they need to act fast. To keep the publishing industry afloat there were ideas of partnering with subscription services, educating the public of copyright law, creating new software less capable of sharing, adopting micropayment models, and joining TV & Radio in being reliant on advertising. “Then there was the nuclear option: sue copyright infringers directly, making an example of them.” (Shirky 2009) And so the cycle continues with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: “Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.” (Shirky 2009) This may not however be the case.

Ultimately new technologies have the ability to make or break the publishing industry. Have e-readers killed the book, or revolutionized reading? Can newspapers change their advertising based revenue model to compete with the ease of digital media or do online pay walls solve their problems? (Fenzi 2013) In dealing with digital and networked media, “much is at stake: the redistribution of value among players, a redesign of their roles and, potentially, an evolution in the way content is created—all of which could produce significant new value for the industry in the long term.”(Behar et al. 2011 pg. 2)

Regardless of how much the Internet has changed the world for the better, it has brought along with it a multitude of problems that the publishing industry in particular, could have done without. For hundreds of years paper books and newspapers dominated the knowledge industry. There was simply no other way of efficiently disseminating information, stories or ideas. The Internet stopped this monopoly in its tracks.

Further decaying the publishing industries authority as a sole publisher of content, copyright regulation online and the punitive functions that come along with it at present are simply ineffective. Give someone the option of purchasing a 20 dollar e-book or tell them that with a click of a button they could access this content for free with an almost certain chance of getting away with, its obvious what a large portion of the population are going to choose. Publishers know that it is impossible to enforce stringent copyright laws and punish all offenders. If so it would likely be HarperCollins vs. the vast majority of the  internet community.

Publishers therefore need to consider alternative options to protect their content whilst still generating income. An example can be seen in the television industry with NetFlix. Knowing that that many consumers were streaming illegal content online, Netflix was created, which through its affiliation with Television producers, provides up to date quality content that can be easily accessed at any time. The situation benefits both parties in that consumers can access content instantaneously for only a small fee and in an easier format than illegal downloading and the producers receive payments from Netflix for their content. Although this is not as much as what they would generate from advertising revenue on air, it showed that the Television industry was acknowledging that times are changing and that pragmatism and compromise is crucial for publishing industries to re-assert their dominance in the digital age.

As controversial as they have become, paywalls may be a necessary evil in the survival of the publishing industry. However, not only are customers unwilling to pay for most content, they also don’t have to. With free news aggregator sites sourcing stories from publishers, they effectively achieve the same results without having to do the work. Despite the public’s reluctance to pay for digital content, Dan Gillmor from The Guardian believes that “we need to see every kind of business model, and every permutation of every model, and then learn from the ones that work.” (Gillmor 2011) The paywall, may not be the publishing industries final solution to digital and networked media, but what do they have to lose?

With a declining emphasis on publishers as crucial intermediaries due to the ease of content creation that digital media has created, the concept of Creative Commons may be a projection of what is to come. The Creative Commons provides copyright licenses that give public permission to share and use content under conditions of the publisher’s choice. I.e changing from ‘all rights reserved’ to ‘some rights reserved’.  (Creative Commons) Although this idea is a global community knowledge pooling initiative, rather than a profit raising mechanism, it gives publishers the power to protect their content whilst still sharing it with the world.  It allows the option of non-commercial use and also protects those who use the content, as they are not infringing upon copyright law as long as they abide by specified conditions.  (Creative Commons) Bruno Latour a well-known Sociologist publishes much of his work through creative commons. “Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network,” i.e copy and paste. Creative Commons “creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws.” (Creative Commons)

Adapting to technological changes does not just involve new technology for readers, in order to compete with increased citizen publishing, publishers need to pick up their game too.  Many have criticized the publishing industry’s inability to adapt to web centric media. However according to Sachin Kamdar, “it’s not the publishers that aren’t adapting — it’s their tool belts that haven’t evolved to meet most acute needs…publishers have been running a marathon in a pair of shoes that are four sizes too small. “ (Kamdar 2012)  The use of cause and effect analysis on content as it spreads through the web will not only track performance in a reactive way but also act proactively to help enhance it in the future. You can expect to see a significant effort in the social media space to address the needs of publishers and content-driven organizations.” (Kamdar 2012) In journalism, such technologies will help in designing editorial calendars and provide real-time analytics to show an understanding of the collective interests of readers at that time. (Kamdar 2012)

Conclusion

Under the pressure of networked and digital media the concept of a book will change, similar to how those of magazines and newspapers already are. This does not equal their destruction, it simply means that in order to succeed against the new found ease of content creation in the digital environment they will need to learn new tricks, and if they don’t then someone else will. “There will always be books. The question now is: will there always be publishers?” (Gillmor 2011)

 

References:

Behar, P Colombani, L, Krishnan, S 2011, Publishing in the Digital Era, Bain & Company, accessed 8 June 2013, available: <http://www.bain.com.au/bainweb/PDFs/cms/Public/BB_Publishing_in_the_digital_era.pdf >

Budden, R 2013, ‘Publishing Industry roundtable plots a survival story’, Financial Times, May 16, accessed 11 June 2013, available: <http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/240be582-be07-11e2-9b27-00144feab7de.html#axzz2VaYxVEiz Budden R 2013>

Creative Commons, accessed 11 June 2013, available: <http://creativecommons.org/about>

Fenzi, F 2013, ‘3 Start-ups Out to Change the Publishing Industry’ , Inc., April 24,  accessed 11 June 2013, available: <http://www.inc.com/francesca-fenzi/3-companies-changing-how-you-think-about-paper.html>

Gillmore, D 2011, New York Times Pay Wall: The faint scent of success, The Idea Logical Company, 4 August, accessed 8 June 2013, available: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/aug/03/new-york-times-paywall Gillmor, D 2011>

Kamdar, S 2012, ‘Why publishers are about to go data crazy’, PBS, January 17, accessed 8 June 2013, available: <http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2012/01/why-publishers-are-about-to-go-data-crazy017>

Patokallio, J 2013, Tools of Change for Publishing, The Publishing Industry has a problem and EPUB is not the solution, accessed 8 June 2013, available:

<http://toc.oreilly.com/2013/02/the-publishing-industry-has-a-problem-and-epub-is-not-the-solution.html>

Shatzkin, M 2013,  ‘Atomization- publishing as a function rather than an industry’, The Idea Logical Company, weblog post, January 9, accessed 8 June 2013, available: <http://www.idealog.com/blog/atomization-publishing-as-a-function-rather-than-an-industry/>

Shatzkin, M 2012, ‘Some things that were true about publishing for decades that aren’t true anymore,’ The Idea Logical Company, weblog post, May 28, accessed 11 June 2013, available <ttp://www.idealog.com/blog/some-things-that-were-trueaboutpublishing-for-decades-arent-true-anymore/ >

Shirky, C 2009, Clay Shirky Blog, ‘Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable,’ weblog post, January 23, accessed 8 June 2013, available:  <http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/

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