Pundits and the Future of Publishing

May 15th, 2009

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, there are no shortage of pundits on the future of publishing, in all its forms. It is a cluttered field, and unless you can devote all day, every day, to their utterances, you’re going to miss some great blogs entries, and a ton of dross. Most focus on more limited aspects of publishing than I do, which is not a bad thing, but it makes it very challenging for folks who want to try and get a handle on the whole picture of where publishing is heading. That’s my intention with The Future of Publishing. O’Reilly does a great job here, and remains a favorite.

Seth Godin has been a fascinating long-time writer and blogger on many or most of the commercial aspects of web publishing. His May 8th blog is a gem. It’s short, so I’ll quote in full:

Too much free

If you want to know who’s a newbie on a film set, just watch what happens at lunch. Major films have huge buffets laid out for cast and crew, and the newcomers can’t resist. It’s FREE! Over time, of course, the old-timers come to the conclusion that it’s just lunch, and the crew gets a bit more jaded and learns some self-restraint as well.

The first time a previously expensive good or service is made free, we’re drawn to it precisely because of the freeness. The fifth time or tenth time, not so much.

Free online has two distinct elements, then. Breakthrough free, like the first free ebook or the first free email service, and sample-this free, which decreases the cost of trial and lowers boundaries of the spread of an idea.

But they shouldn’t be confused. As the market for free gets more crowded, we’ll see more and more people promoting their free products, stuff that people used to have pay for. A complete shift from ‘you will pay’ to ‘it is free’ to  ‘I will pay for ads to alert you it’s free’ to ultimately, ‘I will pay you to try it’.

Free by itself is no longer enough to guarantee much of anything.

Isn’t this the tremendous frustration of the pace of change in publishing? When most of us are just trying to get our minds around “free,” Seth is a step ahead. I think he’s onto to something ahead of everyone else I’ve read: all publishers please take note.