Sitting in a Cardboard Box, Saying Vroom Vroom, and Pretending It’s a Car

June 27, 2009

The title of this blog is the title of a presentation to be made this weekend in Austin, Texas by Michael Murphy, a 27-year veteran of the book publishing business.

I read about it on Ron Hogan’s fun blog on MediaBistro today titled, “Making the Future Up As We Go Along.”

When I saw that title I suspected the post would be about a subject near and dear to my heart: as much as various executives, experts and analysts put on a brave face suggesting that they’ve got everything under control, I believe that we’re making endless stabs in the dark, hoping we’ll hit the quarry.

Hogan reports that Murphy sent him an explanation of the session as follows: “It (is) really meant to covey that we are all pretty much making-it-up as we go through this period of fundamental change in the book business. There are many rather smart people issuing completely divergent opinions about The Future of Publishing.

“This could be a wonderful new era where some people much smarter than me figure out how to effectively use the opportunities of the Internet to establish like-minded viral communities and give many more writers much greater access to their core readers than was ever afforded when a buyer in Ann Arbor or on Fifth Avenue in New York were the primary deciders of what readers were presented as New & Noteworthy. On the other hand, a new era could be even more restrictive as The Era of The Ampersand Wielding Book Barons (Barnes & Noble/Simon & Schuster) gives way to The Dot.Com Book Baron and Amazon becomes the all-powerful voice of book consumption… I use Amazon; I love their speed, ease, & efficiency. But I don’t trust them to serve my reading needs over their quarterly profits as far as I can next-day deliver them.

Hogan continues: “After three decades in the book business, Murphy says he’s never seen this level of ‘passionate debate about where we’re headed and what we’re doing wrong…But what I find most “wrong” about our current state of affairs,’ he concludes, “is that our conversations have become so dominated about the bottles and so little about the wine. I’d much rather be talking about my writers, like Tony O’Neill and Barb Johnson, who are so talented they bring tears to me eyes…on a back lit screen as well as the printed page.'”

Great stuff…I’m tempted to head out to Vancouver airport for a last-minute flight to Austin.

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The Future of Graphic Design

June 26, 2009

As you would perhaps imagine, it’s an enormous task to keep this site relevant and up-to-date. I made a choice years ago: in order to detail the future of publishing I would examine a very wide swathe of industries and influences. To my great surprise, Google Analytics consistently noted that my article on the future of graphic design was one of my most-often read articles.

I’d never considered it one of my better analyses, but seeing its popularity, I knew it required an update. I’ve posted the update this evening.

Looking to other sources for information on the topic I was surprised to find a paucity of articles that address the broad issues. From my reading over the years I know that there are numerous commentators far better informed than I who examine various aspects of the topic. But apparently very few take in on in toto. I was greatly surprised to find my article from late 2008 at the head of the Google list. So I felt a huge obligation to update the piece. It’s intended more for a general audience interested in this key aspect of the future of publishing than for thoughtful designers themselves.

Please let me know which of my observations fall short of the reality you encounter on this key topic.

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An Upside from Google for Publishers?

While researching my previous blog entry, I found another very interesting piece on the U.K. Guardian’s excellent site, more specifically the OrganGrinderBlog, which focuses on digital media. A May 6th entry, covering the FIPP World Magazine Congress, reports on a presentation by Matt Brittin, Google’s UK director. Apparently Google has shared U.S. $5B with publishers through AdSense, its contextual ads program, in the last year. Is this just in the U.S.? The U.K.? MediaWeek offered more detail — the $5 billion is a worldwide figure. The MediaWeek report also noted that “In addition, Google Search and Google News were said to be responsible for directing one billion clicks a month to publishers’ sites.” Further “Brittin pointed to the ‘massive growth’ in interest in the range of content published by traditional publishers. Since 2005, the number of searches on Google for ‘magazines’ had risen 225%, while searches for ‘glossies and tabloids’ had increased by 458%.”

Surely when you look at the overall increase in the volume of searches on Google in that period, this is small potatoes. Mathew Ingram estimates that the volume of searches on Google increased by 700% from 2005-2008.

The ongoing message for publishers from Google: better to live with us; you’ll have trouble trying to live without us.

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Closing the Barn Door on Free Content (after the cattle have escaped)

I’m encountering an increasing volume of commentary on blogs and in news analysis that newspaper and other periodical publishers are now searching for a workable method to start charging for all the content they’ve been giving away for the past decade+. Content may wish to be free, but publishers are determinedly searching for handcuffs or perhaps an electronic ankle bracelet to get the content back into the stables (small side note…I searched Google for the correct term for electronic ankle bracelet. It brought up one ad: “Stylish Electronic Ankle Bracelet. Accessorize With Lovely Jewelry.” I guess if law enforcement is keeping track of you there’s no excuse to lose your sense of fashion).

Today I watched an interesting video on the Wall Street Journal site featuring an interview with Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, who with partners Steve Brill and Leo Hindery is launching a startup in September called Journalism Online. A report in the Guardian indicates that the three believe they can get “10% of web readers to pay for news online.” You can read much more media coverage of the venture on its beta web site.

The same Guardian article mentions a competing effort called ViewPass, described in more detail on editorsweblog. Both startups are intended as syndicates that would act as single point of access and payment to readers, as this is clearly far more practical than every publication creating a separate payment system.

Meanwhile on June 23rd in a keynote speech at the annual PricewaterhouseCoopers Entertainment and Media Outlook conference, Dow Jones CEO (and current publisher of The Wall Street Journal) Les Hinton called Google a vampire that was sucking the blood out of the newspaper business.

According to a report in Crain’s New York Business, Hinton said that “There is a charitable view of the history of Google. [It] didn’t actually begin life in a cave as a digital vampire per se. The charitable view of Google is that the news business itself fed Google’s taste for this kind of blood.”

By offering its content free on the Web, the newspaper industry “gave Google’s fangs a great place to bite. We will never know what might have happened had newspapers taken a different approach.”

We’ll all be keeping an eye on the efforts to re-attach cash to content, wondering whether it truly can be harnessed and put back in the barn, while perhaps driving a stake through Google’s heart.

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Spoiled by Technology

June 17, 2009

A very funny clip of comedian Louis CK, appearing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Courtesy of my friend Bob McArthur, who in turn found it on The Digitalist, which noted that “this clip will resonate with anyone involved in digital publishing…”

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