For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading (and re-reading) a column by Frederic Filloux that claimed “the new book publishing business is starting to look more and more like the software industry“. I just don’t understand it.
Filloux points out a lot of true things: content abundance, the power of search and the value of (manual) curation, the need for editing, the availabilty of freelance resources and the potential of platforms like Inkling. But … how is this like the software industry?
At one point Filloux seems to be talking about “apps”, but even there the comparison breaks down. Software, whether programs or apps, has no physical counterpart. While some types of books have only digital manifestations, the book publishing business will continue to sell a blend of both physical and digital objects.
It will be doing that for a long time. Even Filloux’s “abundance” example talks about making the journey from manuscript to bookstore. His anecdote about Parisian booksellers returning unopened boxes of books for lack of space is testament to the physical object.
As well, unopened boxes of books are not the same thing as “too many books” getting published; it is more likely that too many books are being printed. In fact, a conversation between Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler, excerpted at the end of Filloux’s piece, describes the opportunity to make a digital book available at prices that could not support print versions.
Pining for a new breed of gatekeepers (as Filloux seems to do in describing Apple’s control of its app store) misses the opportunity we have to reshape publishing and make it the business we’ve long claimed it is. Things like more entrants and lower prices (that make reading more affordable) are potentially good things.
If the lesson from the software industry is “create scarcity”, it’s the wrong lesson to learn. Better to create value.