The button

I was in Dallas last week, attending the annual meeting of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE).  The conference featured a couple of high-profile keynotes and a host of educational workshops.

Scott Kubista-Hovis, education manager with the Community Associations Institute, hosted a (very) hands-on workshop, “Creating and selling eBooks – today!” It lived up to its promise. Kubista-Hovis led about 50 association professionals from manuscript through to finished (published) eBook, all in the span of 75 minutes.

Admittedly, it was a crash course, and those who sat through the presentation may need a refresher before they fly solo. But almost everyone stayed through to the successful conclusion, when an eBook was loaded on the KDP platform. Kubista-Hovis also provided an overview of the paths to publishing on other services.

The session reminded me of a blog post that Clay Shirky wrote earlier this year:

“Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.”

There are plenty of people on the other side of that argument. As an example, the Huffington Post recently published “Who needs publishers & bookstores? Writers, readers & everyone else”.

In the essay, columnist, bookseller and attorney William Petrocelli makes the argument that the current ecosystem is “an intricate, economic mechanism” in which “publishers are key because they make it financially worthwhile” for everyone else.

I’m a big fan of the ecosystem argument; that’s what “The opportunity in abundance” is about. It’s important to look at the system as a whole to make sure it is designed to deliver the results that will sustain it.

For better or worse, though, ecosystems are seldom closed. As Scott Kubista-Hovis demonstrated last week, eBooks might not be a button, but they are getting closer to it.

Rather than fight against changes that might erode the value of the current system, Petrocelli and others would be better off focusing on the characteristics they want to preserve or extend:

  • Fewer rejected authors
  • Adequate and effective marketing and promotion
  • Greater access for riskier titles
  • Cost-effective access to editorial and design resources
  • An environment that encourages the creation of new works

These are all goals I could support, but I don’t think they require us to preserve the current system. Rather, we should be thinking about what we need to do to protect these outcomes when Clay Shirky’s button becomes a widespread reality.

An additional note: Reading Petrocelli’s post end-to-end, I was struck that libraries, a prime source of discovery and access, were not mentioned.  Though Petrocelli cites research by the Codex Group (to support his claim that bookstores are a vehicle for discovery), he does not mention data in the same report that suggests many more people obtain the books they read from libraries, loans from friends or gifts. If we’re going to make an ecosystem argument, it’s important that we cast a wide net.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.