Under Pressure

The ideas and arguments that I’ve been advancing here for longer than anyone cares to remember have begun to realise themselves willy-nilly, and I ache to see the engine of this change kick over and roar. On one hand, the Wall Street Journal acknowledges the effects that digital (self-)publishing has on the established industry of print publishing. It turns out that there’s real money to be made in digital publishing — who knew? The lesson swathed in all the moaning and promotional hand-waving is that one future (perhaps the only or principal future) for mediating between authors and audiences will involve making it easy for readers to find and enjoy what they’re looking for. On one hand, that means finding and promoting the right manuscripts; on another, it means facilitating the process of making them into readable digital publications. Not every author will have the determination to produce DIY digital books; few will, in fact. But a publisher who’s willing to focus on smoothing out a production flow directed principally to the digital market will steal a jump on what will be a growing marketplace.
 
But — and here’s the other side — we await an open, across-the-board format for handsome, readable digital books. For the publisher and developers who iron out the wrinkles on a simple, handsome, functional book-preparation app that produces an open digital book format, the horizons are limitless. 93.1% of the digital book market (“all my statistics have been authenticated by having been made up” — David Weinberger) could be satisfied by an application that did little more than pour text into a given page layout and output something like an open-format PDF. Bing, bang, where’s my 70%?
 
And again I say, as I submitted at Ars Electronica 2008, that if you wanted a sandbox within which to test these claims with a big audience, the readership of theologically-oriented works is vast, and there’s a tremendous base of public-domain works one could use to help seed the market.
 
It’s all going to happen; the question is, Who will make it happen first, and best, and derive all the benefits that come from experiencing that leap first-hand?

4 thoughts on “Under Pressure

  1. First and best? Wrong question I think. That kind of thinking bolsters the antics of people like Steve Jobs. But these people ultimately serve a limited market of fans and aficionados. They are the enemies of open source. Getting a jump on the market by being first permits competitors to lay back and refine their their offerings. Providing a product that is nominally “best” in a commodity market doesn’t give you more than an advertising advantage.

    So will trad print step in, and/or trad digital? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? Reed Elsevier? John Battelle? Rex Hammock? Lizzie Thunderstorm?

    From Amazon through Zuckerberg, the private possibilities are limitless. Sadly for those who worship at the altar of entrepreneurial nonsense an open standard or a global de facto standard is required. An open standard implies a standards body working on common code addressing open hardware. A de facto standard requires a vendor with enough market share and clout to impose common protocols across the market.

    At this point Google springs to mind as the best company to influence convergence of standards. Amazon and Apple offerings may soon join Sony Betamax and eight track audio as interesting historical efforts that just didn’t pan out.

  2. It’s all going to happen; the question is, Who will make it happen first, and best, and derive all the benefits that come from experiencing that leap first-hand?

    (Late to Party Alert.)

    Okay, but you know what scares me? This is, about verbatim, what we right-minded smartypants all said concerning the exploration and exploitation of space in the 70’s.

    I know. I also enjoy pouring rainwater on parades, and eat cold pancakes without syrup for breakfast.

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