Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Future is Not Binary - Building Choice and Diversity

Delivering digital publishing is frustrating, not because we all clearly see it and share the vision but because we clearly don’t have a shared vision or even shared principles on which to build the vision. It’s complex, will have a constant stream of market and technology surprises and just when we are sitting comfortably, something will change. Is this any different from any other environment?

The challenges in publishing is that it’s not just the technology that is changing, its the creation of the content, the rights associated with it, the development of these, the market and sales channel, the sell able product itself, the consumer and how they use it and even the life expectancy of the rights and content themselves. Is there anything to be left unchanged? Even the physical book itself will be changed by the process. We often hear people saying that digitisation is the biggest change since Gutenberg. Well we would say that Gutenberg was a relatively small change in comparison and the rate of change now is also significantly faster.

So will we all be reading ebooks on ereaders, online via notebooks, on mobile phones? Will we be buying books as outright purchases as we do today, or as chapters, or collections? Will we be renting books for downloading to our devices or online access? Will we be given free access to all content on a different business model such as advertising paid or continue to buy to read? Will the library versus retail model collide or live in harmony? Will publishers and booksellers survive?
We can’t predict the future only prepare for it.

We have written much about the ever elusive word collaboration. It is difficult to envisage any sector so complex, diverse and competitive. We only need to open any industry newsletter to see that collaboration is often a bridge too far and although it may be practiced by a few, it is all too often a no go area for many.

So what about that other word interoperability? Can we envisage a world where technology will enable us to share by default rather than by design? The current DRM offers are clearly counterproductive and promote the vision of monopoly silos and a clear ambition by some even outside of today’s landscape to dominate. Often the process of dealing with digital files is user unfriendly, complex and too restrictive and today we would suggest is the biggest consumer turn off.

Today we see the start of the consumer demand for mobile content, online content and a potential shift from the old ‘my library’ to ‘my virtual library’. We hear the start of the debate about whether ebook readers as we know them today are mere transient technology that will inevitable end up just as others on the forgotten piles of scrap. The challenge moving forward is to offer choice of what, when and how we read and the associated flexible rights management to achieve this. The challenge today is to start share that vision and to build choice.

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