Lately, I’ve been considering the conversations I have with prospective and actual clients about preparing for the “futures of publishing” (there are several, perhaps many).
Most of the discussions start with an assessment of “where you are”, followed by a review of “where you want/need to end up”. That’s natural; we’re trained to think of ways to adapt existing workflows to make them faster, better or cheaper.
In a digital world, however, how publishers work is ultimately how they compete. That transforms workflow planning into a conversation about business models.
The models used to govern content creation, management and distribution have changed. What was once a stable, “one-to-many” approach to marketing and distribution has given way to more robust, less constrained options, including “many to many” and even “many to one”.
In an era of content abundance, the rules of engagement have also changed. The prior, extended period of business-model stability was best managed through negotiations that could be described as either “two parties, one issue” or (less often) “two parties, many issues”.
Although business models have changed, publishers and their intermediaries continue to try to evolve their market roles in ways that typically follow the rules for “two-party, one-issue” negotiations. In an environment in which the negotiations are better framed using models for “many parties, many issues”, these more limited approaches have made the design of a flawed ecosystem even worse, shifting burdens onto valued intermediaries (as Don Linn points out, libraries and booksellers, among others).
Content abundance, coupled with improvements in available technologies, gives us an opportunity to reshape the competitive framework. This would be a good time to ask ourselves the “blank piece of paper” question. If we could redesign publishing from scratch, would it look like this?
In that spirit, BISG’s one-day NEXT conference, held last March, started a conversation that no one company could lead. It would be interesting and helpful if the various publishing industry organizations built on that model and joined together to define a collection of multi-player scenarios.
That degree of cooperation may be unusual, but it could also be transformative for the many members of these organizations. It might also provide a framework to better organize the many for-profit conferences that want to “own” the future of publishing.