Booking the Future: An Article About Where Publishing is Headed

Here’s a reprint of a fascinating and well thought out CC-licensed article by Ransom Stephens on the openDemocracy Network about the future of books and publishers.  The main thrust of the article is that books will survive mainly in hardback versions, electronic on-demand publishers will take over the bulk of book publishing, this takeover will begin the day Stephen King releases a major novel through an online self-publishing outlet, major publishers will whither and eventually be outmoded, and bookstores will thrive in a healthy relationship with electronic publishing.

Booking the Future
Ransom Stephens (openDemocracy Network)

Though the role of publishing has not changed – connect readers to writers – the revolution will not be led by an established publisher. To date, no established player has prospered through, much less led, the transition to the digitally-based economy. What’s left of the recording industry is still pursuing the fascinating how-to-best-prosecute-our-customers business model. No one was better positioned to profit from the web-based economy than Sears, with its legendary catalog, but Amazon all but killed it. Even IBM barely survived the computer revolution.

For some reason, even when entrenched companies can see the iceberg they can’t turn the ship. In 2000, at the height of the “Napster Crisis,” Time-Warner/AOL’s CEO, Richard Parsons said, “It’s an assault on everything that constitutes cultural expression of our society… And the corporations won’t be the only ones hurt. Artists will have no incentive to create. Worst-case scenario: the country will end up in a sort of Cultural Dark Age.”

Have YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Blogspot, et al reduced cultural expression? Here’s a better example. In 1977, Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) which, at the time, built the best computing hardware, said, “There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home.” Time-Warner/AOL, Sears and IBM survived, but are swimming in the wake of Dell, Google, Amazon, etc. 

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