The Laws of the Future of Publishing

V15: March 28, 2015

By Thad McIlroy

(V1 January 1, 2009)

1.     The Web is still in its infancy.

2.     In the land of scarcity, theft is a capital crime. In the land of abundance, not being copied is the ultimate insult.

3.     The value of face-to-face experience increases in direct proportion to the spread of disintermediated electronic encounters. The cafes are crowded.

4.     Broad scope + mere comprehension replace targeted attention + full understanding. Today’s media consumer gets less from more rather than more from less.

5.     Don’t blame readers for their lack of attention: reduced attention to detail is a required skill for coping with media saturation. All content creators must work within this limitation.

6.     There remain just 24 hours in a day, and not all of that time can be devoted to the consumption of media. Multitasking increases total media consumption, though not the level of attention devoted.

7.     On a level playing field good content always wins.

8.     Advertising spend is a zero-sum game, in other words, marketers do not increase budgets just because an attractive new channel to spend money becomes available.

9.     Black + white thinking is anathema to appreciating change. Change is not either/or. It’s and.

10.  Don’t be defensive; it attracts predators.

11. Technology takes no prisoners. (Listen to Peter O’Toole shout this out in Lawrence of Arabia and watch that ensues. You’ll get my drift.)

12.  There is a limit to the number of separate digital devices people want to carry. That limit is one. The phablet has solved the problem.

13.  People still grow and their tastes and habits change, as they always have. Human nature remains a constant, but fashion changes.

14.   “Megahits” are not what matters most. They are no longer the foundation on which media businesses are built.

15.  The “long tail” exists but it’s not a great business model.

16.  Rarely does a single vendor dominate more than one technology era; the innovator’s dilemma still stumps most companies.

17.  Methods of education, in all forms and at all levels, have embarked on a path of irrevocable change. But don’t hold your breath —  other than religion, education is the most tradition-bound institution in our society.

18. An analog medium doesn’t have to die for its digital equivalent to thrive. If it lacks an inherent aesthetic, the analog medium used to record digital media will be phased out (i.e. CDs & DVDs are lacking; many books are aesthetically rich).

19. Digital versions of analog forms of content do not draw the same revenue as their predecessors. Cost reductions, both fixed and variable costs, can outpace the reduction in revenue. The challenge for all publishers is to modify business models to maintain or improve profit ratios while scaling expenses in proportion to revenue.

20. There remain situations where broadband mass-market advertising is useful, but integrated marketing strategies deliver far better ROI. While the ground keeps shifting, the most challenging skill for advertisers is executing consistently effective marketing programs.

21. People don’t like DRM for a very simple reason: they perceive that once they have paid for content, they shouldn’t be restricted in what they can do with it. (Telling them that a film or a song or a book is merely licensed rather than owned makes no sense to them.)

22. Every DRM code ever created has been broken, and usually in a very short time. (The time it takes to break falls in an inverse relation to the number of people who would have legitimate reasons to see it broken. If it’s not broken it’s because it didn’t matter to enough people.)

22.a. The people who loudly defend the rights of copyright holders always sound cranky, not wise.

23. (At the same time) there will always be of content pirates. They are mostly consumers who would never have purchased the product in the first place. Just like suicide, rights infringement is enabled by opportunity. DRM increases the attractiveness of theft. There’s little or no ROI on DRM.

25. Quantity has its own quality. Some people seek the quality of quantity.

26. You can run but you still can’t hide from surreptitious data collection on the web. The battle continues; the outcome unclear. Each online privacy abuse makes things worse for everyone.

27. The systems established to maintain our privacy and security will become more pernicious and destructive than the things they’re saving us from.

28. Never underestimate “cheap” as a product feature.

29. “Information doesn’t want to be free. It wants to be $6.95.” — Don Marti, quoted by Doc Searls.

30.  Don’t forget the law of “completely unexpected occurrences” and its sister law of “completely unexpected outcomes.” We assume that things evolve in a linear fashion. Technological changes tend to be either abrupt or, briefly, invisible.

31. The Pace of Change: Change generally happens more slowly than the most shrill predictions, more quickly than you would have guessed, and much faster than you’re comfortable with.

32.  “The next revolution will catch us all off guard — as they always do. Said another way: if the crowd is anticipating the revolution, it can’t be the revolution.” — Doc Searls, 2002

33.  “A tradition is only an innovation that worked.” – The Economist, 2003. And science is merely a thesis proved by doing an experiment twice with the same result (adapted from Mark Anderson, Strategic News Service).

34. “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp.” – Chris Locke, The Cluetrain Manifesto

35. Industry standards are a necessary evil; they add much more value than they slow momentum. Standards bodies will always be slower and more cautious than the “free market”. It’s a limitation worth living with.

36. You can judge vendors by how wholeheartedly they embrace standards. Most are tepid. Some vendors treat standards like something the dog brought in. A vendor’s embrace of standards increases in proportion to the value they bring to customers (which may be different than the value they bring to shareholders).

37. Companies want the kitchen sink included with software specifications; developers want to implement as little as they can get away with. Much software is over-specified; some of it is barely usable.

38. Technology will never be the obstacle to change. Stated another way, a company, somewhere, maybe large, maybe small, has already solved the problem you thought was unsolvable, or has invented the widget you thought was impossible.