Apr 30, 2012

Looking at Publishing

Just read a wonderful essay in the New York Review of Books from Jason Epstein - "How Books Will Survive Publishing."

Mr. Epstein looks at the current conflict between Amazon and books publishers and Apple, over the prices of e-books, and uses that to step outside and look at the real conflict going on. Which, it turns out, is one of a new medium (digital books and booksellers) vs incumbents who are stuck with the latent economics of a different industry.

Epstein writes:

What matters is Amazon’s attempt to force publishers to conform to the digital imperative by resisting prices that include traditional publishing costs. This is more than a conflict between Amazon and publishers. It is a vivid expression of how the logic of a radical new and more efficient technology impels institutional change.    
In other words, with new technology comes new economics (of both production and consumption), thus transforming (maybe even destroying) institutions that cannot begin or re-form under the new landscape.

Of course, I think this applies to all media, not just publishing (Media: What's Past is Prologue).

So what does Epstein see as one solution:
Independent editorial start-ups posting their books on appropriate web sites have already begun to emerge and more will follow. The cost of entry will be slight. The essential capital will be editorial talent and energy, as it had been in the glory days before conglomeration when editors were themselves de facto publishers, publicists, and marketers. Many start-ups will fail. Some will not. Specificity, reflecting the structure of the web, will matter: a guide to the cultivation of daffodils will more likely succeed than a more diffuse gardening title.  
"Specificity, reflecting the structure of the web, will matter." Or: taste matters. Web structures matter.  Being Internet native matters. In the case of digital web technology, it also requires the transformation of entire industries. And the creation of new ones.

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