Good News for the Future of Publishing

January 16, 2009 by Thad McIlroy

I subscribe to Bob Sacks’ exhausting three times per day newsletter. As I’ve previously noted, Bob is one of the great veterans of magazine publishing and of publishing in general. He’s on our side. I recommend that you subscribe.

Many of his newsletters are simply reposts of articles of interest, but once a week or so he posts readers’ comments (anonymously). Because of the frequency of his newsletter I’ll admit that I often fall behind, but tonight I’m thinking about a recent issue where he noted one reader’s criticism (not verbatim): “I’m sick of reading all this bad news. Isn’t there anything positive to report?” Bob’s comment as I recall was essentially: “Send me some good news and I’ll be glad to post it.”

So it got me thinking about where are the rays of sunshine in the otherwise gloomy publishing landscape. Let me note a few:

1. eBooks are taking off. This may not be, in the short term, great economic news for book publishers, but I think it’s very good news. OK, some business models will require adjustment, but if we’re attracting (or retaining) a generation of readers with the Kindle, Sony Reader et al., then I’d say this weighs in strongly on the positive side.

2. Likewise digital magazine services are creating thousands of digital magazine editions for publishers who previously dealt only in print. I was initially skeptical of this technology (as I was of eBooks), but now see the many possibilities these digital magazines offer to augment the efforts of numerous print publishers. I’ll be going into ever-greater depth on this subject in my article on The Future of Magazines, but note that this has clearly become a very positive technological and business option for all kinds of magazine publishers.

3. Apparently the downward trend in reading has reversed. After a very depressing report several years ago from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA (noted extensively in my article on The Future of Book Publishing), a very recently-released report “Reading on the Rise, the National Endowment for the Arts‘…documents a significant turning point in recent American cultural history. For the first time in over a quarter-century, our survey shows that literary reading has risen among adult Americans.”

4. Please, please, look into the progress that Quark and Adobe are making with their competing product offerings. Each have become so sophisticated and powerful that the press has been doing justice to neither. From my perspective, designers and publishers now have access to technology for a few thousand dollars that would previously have cost them $100,000 or more (of course both companies offer server-based versions at significantly higher prices, but they’re for high-volume publishers). The financial analysts have downgraded Adobe’s share price figuring that a few thousand is too much to pay for their current offering (Quark remains a private company). I say to the financial press: You’ve no idea that the ROI on these offerings can be measured in weeks, not years, and that the published output will be a thousand times better than the outdated high-priced products they replace. They are both fine “Hall of Fame” candidates in my Future of Publishing showcase.

I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ve got a few more, but will save them for a later blog.

Cheer up! As Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said nearly a half-century ago, when faced with a great political defeat: “This too shall surely pass.”

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