Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Future Channels and Markets?

Our good friend Mike Shatzkin has shared with us a speech he gave in LA last month to the PMA Graduate School. The paper ‘Where the Web Is Taking Us: The Inevitable Future and the Publisher's Role In It’ can and should be read in full and as always you will find things one agree with and others you don’t and we guarantee, something that will make you think.

Although we agree with much of what was said, we wonder about the overriding premise of Mike’s argument that generalist and horizontals are dead and niche and verticals will rule. We agree that the economies of scale and scope that existed in the physical world do not prevail the same in the virtual one. However we recognise that the virtual one has its own horizontals. After all Mike’s horizontal argument would apply to Amazon being as dead as Barnes and Noble. WE agree that niche verticals will grow but we also firmly believe that aggregation and one stop shopping will also prevail. After all reading is not about the long tail as much as it is about satisfying eclectic reading taste. It always has been the same and any good bookseller will tell you that consumer’s baskets are often as unpredictable as life. Interestingly how we ingest different material and use it will differ between different genre, niches according to the role we play and what we want from it. What is certain is that the book clubs biggest problem was not providing niche offers but in not understanding eclectic tastes and respecting individuals. This lesson is little understood and often misrepresented and publisher are not booksellers and booksellers are publishers. Again a lesson little accepted let alone understood.

We have long disagreed with the view that digital means perpetual licence and effective copyright ‘land grab’ so again this is an issue that needs to be addressed and not assumed given.

We agree strongly with the thoughts Mike starts to convey near the end of his speech, that he book may not be 256 pages, shape, size and weight, or whatever the optimum physical format economics dictated. The book of the future may be short and not need the font size adjustment to make it fit. It may be serialised or multi media or have different content extensions according to the format.

The last point of Mike’s speech focuses on moving upstream in the publishing process and what he refers to as ‘start with XML’. We again agree that digitisalistion is about the total publishing life cycle from author to the reader. It is not about the end formats, channels and reading devices. It is about developing digital content from the start alongside the digital context material that describe it and support it and the rights that cover its terms of usage and ownership. We don’t see this as totally dependant on ‘Esperanto’ technologies such as XML, but it positive start.

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