Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Digital Climate Change

We applaud the speech that Random House chair and c.e.o. Gail Rebuck gave this week. The speech itself was fully reported in today’s Bookseller briefing and is well rounded and gives a thorough viewpoint of why the digital glass is definitely half full and not half empty. Digitisation is impacting everything to do with publishing and even the content itself.

It was interesting to read the speech on the back of having watched two BBC programmes last night. The first was on the history of the typewriter and the second on the emergence of the tabloid press. What these programmes clearly showed was that technology and social change are cyclic and the changes that happened at the end of the 19th century were very similar in their impact to those we are experiencing today.

In the case of newsprint the broadsheets had existed and presented their reports the same way for many years. The tabloid came in the form of The Daily Mail and shook their very foundations, presenting different news, not for the elite but for the masses. It was possible due to the literacy boom created by education, social urbanisation and the emergence of efficient distribution. We could not help drawing a parallel with the Internet and technology boom of today. The tabloid and its journalism has survived and the broadsheets have followed its path.

In the case of the typewriter it was providing automation and replacing the pen in the early explosion of the office. The demand for automation was a given. The sheer number of different typewriter machines and type layouts reminded us of the many format wars that litter the technology battlefields. It was interesting how ‘qwerty’ won the final battle and the fact that the best doesn’t always prevail. The typewriter may have gone by the qwerty keyboard remains long after its layout justification has gone.

The digital publishing evolution is not about ebooks, online, audio downloads, blogs, these are merely the delivery mechanisms. It is about the book and the divergence of publishing sectors that were once joined together merely by a common format, jacket and spine.

Gail ‘s speech is encapsulated in her line, ‘Digitisation is here and books will never be the same again,’ and in her belief that this is grounds for optimism. Digital publishing is publishing and is changing and challenging the rights acquired their developed, how it is produced, what is produced, how it is sold and marketed, what is read and how it is read and finally, the roles and relationships right across the total publishing life cycle.