Addicted to Change

October 23, 2013 by Thad McIlroy

Like most tech-dominated industries publishing is addicted to change. This addiction even has a scientific name: neophilia, in contrast with neophobia, a condition more traditionally associated with publishing (I chuckled when I read in the Wikipedia entry: “Neophobia is a common finding in aging animals…”).

I’m not criticizing; I’ve been on the magic carpet ride for as long as the rest of us. I’m just trying to gently float a contrary notion, hoping for some perspective.

This past summer seemed to be very quiet but that’s what summers are supposed to be, particularly in the publishing industry, which goes on an extended holiday while publishing double issues of popular magazines. I was looking forward to September. Yippee, more change!

logoI’m finding this fall to be very quiet. The Frankfurt Book Fair has come and gone (or the Frankfurt Book Mess, as I prefer to call it). So have a handful of conferences and the publishing world looks more or less the same. Could it be that, at least for now, the major publishing industry changes have already taken place and we can spend some time just getting a handle on what has passed?

Let me try a few topics, and see if you think that what’s happening now with this list should cause us any lost sleep:

  • Price-fixing in ebookland
  • Digital publishing formats
  • Metadata
  • DRM
  • Amazon’s dominance
  • Self-publishing ascendant
  • Barnes & Noble’s slow demise

Grab onto any one of those topics, imagine where it might be a year from now, and tell us whether there’s any basis to argue for impending change. The price-fixing trial will eventually end, saddling the large publishers with large fines that they can easily absorb. Digital publishing formats will remain chaotic. Metadata will be mostly ignored. The big retailers and big publishers will continue to encourage DRM lock-in, though readers will continue to find it just bothersome (and the scofflaws too small a group to aggressively pursue). Amazon’s dominance will continue to grow, and self-publishing, while not dominant in sales, will remain in ascendance. Barnes & Noble will still be with us, continuing to offer up both comedy and tragedy.

My advice to publishers: take advantage of the calm. Back to school: we know that there are a wide range of digital skills that we’ve yet to conquer. Let’s get on it.

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