Thursday, August 19, 2010

Digital is not a Binary Decsion

This month we have had mass market US romance publisher Dorchester Publishing turning its back on traditional print publishing and refocusing on a pure e-book/print-on-demand model. Now we read that Rice University will close its high-profile experiment in digital university-press publishing in the same month.

We respect that these are different publishing sectors and the genre and consumer is very different but as we witness one taking bold digital only steps we see the other shut up its digital only press. What does this tell us about the all or nothing digital route? Will it work or is it doomed to fail? Do consumers see content in terms of black and white decisions? Will some sectors succeed where other fail? Is thi a brave time to make binary decisions which may appear safer in the coming years?

Rice University Press closed it physical doors in 1996 and was reborn as digital only in 2006. They now claim that the digital has proven too expensive to sustain. It was hoped that the press might sustain itself largely on revenues from print-on-demand book sales. The press strategy was supported heavily by Connexions, the university's online, open-source environment for creating and publishing scholarly content, as its e-publishing platform. Readers will continue to be able to purchase published bound books through the press's print-on-demand partner.

Both Rice and Dorchester are relatively small operations so some would say the Rice’s failure doesn't condemn digitally based university-press publishing merely that it didn’t work for Rice. Dorchester success or failure likewise doesn’t say that the digital only path is righ ot wrong merely offers lessons to others.

On reflection we would suggest that digital isn’t a binary decision and that publishers across all sectors and sixes need to take baby steps, measure, review and realign. Bold steps may work but the logic is that the consumer today is eclectic in what the read and how the read it. Today is not the time to place the business bet of a single horse to win.

No comments: