How Amazon Destroyed the Publishing Ecosystem

March 12, 2014

Everyone takes a shot at Amazon, and it’s not difficult to see why. Founder/CEO Jeff Bezos is blamed for just about every corporate crime imaginable, from pricing that destroys competition to suffocating warehouse employees on hot summer days (apparently no longer a problem).

My criticism of Amazon is about an issue perhaps more subtle, but, in my view far more serious. Amazon has destroyed the publishing industry by destroying its well-honed ecosystem. Sure, all of the other issues and criticisms stay on the table. This issue is for me the heart of darkness of our beleaguered industry. (more…)

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Good News for the Future of Publishing

January 16, 2009

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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Literacy and the Future of Publishing

December 30, 2008

If you’ve examined my short essay on the subject of literacy and the future of publishing you will find it both brief and dated (although, arguably, this subject does not evolve rapidly).

I’ve been meaning for some time to recommend the TED site…what richness lies there!

When it comes to the subject of literacy, Dave Eggers, bestselling author and publisher-extraordinaire, on the TED site, offers an extremely moving call to improve literacy within Western countries. He has put his actions where his beliefs lie in an extraordinary way. I won’t steal any thunder from his presentation. When you have a few minutes to be inspired, please watch his presentation.

If you don’t have the time for video, head over to the Web site he’s established to follow his dream.

Literacy is clearly inextricably linked to the future of publishing. There are many roads to literacy: Mr. Eggers has created just one. I have nothing but admiration for his effort.

Noted January 23, 2009: I see that the New York Times‘ technology columnist Virginia Heffernan is very fond of TED also. Her Confessions of a TED Addict is a great read!

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Is the Web Making Children Illiterate?

July 26, 2008

A surprisingly strong article appears in tomorrow’s New York Times (July 27, 2008) that tackles the ongoing and vexing issue of whether the increasing hours spent by youngsters on the Web, often at the expense of reading books and other sustained verbal constructions, is turning them into babbling drones, or whether it’s possible that new forms of literacy might be accompanying this dramatic change.

I write “surprisingly strong” because newspapers often treat these complex issues by merely interviewing a few “representative” humans, and then drawing conclusions on this worthless limited data. The result is more “color” than analysis, akin to the tripe we encounter when the subject is “what’s your favorite movie this summer?” The Times‘ piece “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” weighs in at nearly 3500 words, and while we do meet the Konyks, the Sims (not from SimCity!), and the Gaudets, we’re also treated to a bevy of outside experts with conflicting viewpoints, and are provided references to several important reports.

You’ll find all of the standard anti-Internet arguments well-represented in the article, but also fresh ideas. We’re reminded once again that “at least since the invention of television, critics have warned that electronic media would destroy reading.” But, the article continues, “what is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even britneyspears.org, entails some engagement with text.”

Further, “some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not.” (Surprised?)

There’s lot’s more to discover in this well-balanced account of the debate. It’s the best summary I’ve encountered to date.

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