Over the weekend, Liza Daly posted "Starting up in publishing: Here comes the hard part", a concise summary of how the publishing landscape has changed in the last five years. In Daly's view, the world changed when Amazon introduced its Kindle reading device:
Until recently there was no mainstream commercial ebook ecosystem, a curious state of affairs given that computers are very effective at moving words around. A unique confluence of gadget lust, display technology, and corporate willpower created an industry out of thin air. Before 2008, nobody bought eBooks. After the Kindle, lots of people did.
A lot has changed since then. At BookExpo in 2008, it was big news when Jeff Bezos invited Carolyn Reidy onstage to announce their agreement to digitize several thousand books in the Simon & Schuster backlist. Only four years ago, we were still debating "windowing" eBooks – delaying their release by months to protect the sales of hardcover editions.
For those who were part of this eBook "revolution", those memories have grown distant. And as Daly points out, the market for digital startups has contracted quite a bit since those heady first days.
Toward the end of her post, Daly offers three problems that could still use some entrepreneurial attention. Borrowing her words, these include:
- High fidelity automated conversion from paged media to reflowable media
- Portable, cross-platform identifiers
- Beautiful single-master book production
All of these problems resonated with me. Each reflects an aspect the ongoing challenges of migrating from a print to a blended, print plus digital world, and (as Daly points out) none is trivial to solve.
I may be more optimistic than Daly about the prospects for publishing startups, though. The landscape for digital content changed a lot when Amazon introduced the Kindle, but in the last five years we've also seen the growth of alternate platforms like WordPress and Smashwords, with tools that democratize access to content creation, management and dissemination.
The next opportunities may well involve more than serving the digital needs of an existing order. We could find ways to create new paths.
I think this is an idea Daly understands very well. She posted her assessment on Medium, where (at the time of this post) hers was one of 247 essays on "What I learned building…" There are new communities forming, whether traditional publishers create them or not.