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The Future of Publishing

Falmouth UniversityAll publishing today is a form of content marketing, since all content is competing for scarce attention for the benefit of someone...

I visited the University of Falmouth this week for a packed day speaking to creative writing students, running a content marketing workshop for small businesses, and finally giving a talk on 'The Future of Publishing'. Here's a short extract from that talk, in which I set out my vision of publishing services provision coexisting alongside traditional publishing.

"For centuries we conflated the concept of publishing with the concept of print books: their design, creation, and distribution, and we built an entire industry on this. We locked ourselves into the ‘how’ and lost sight of our ‘why’. We used the word ‘book’ to embrace two entirely distinct concepts – the vessel and the content - without acknowledging the distinction, because in practice there was no real distinction. Then the internet came along, and suddenly publishing was no longer an industry, guarded by gatekeepers and reserved for the few: it was a button available to anyone who cared to use it.

"Gradually, the attitude of readers changed: they were no longer grateful for the opportunity to read content. They were awash with content: they began rather to feel that by giving their attention to an author’s content, they were doing that author a favour, rather than the other way around.

"Meanwhile publishers were deeply engaged in the mechanics of digital, on the what and the how and the who of books in the digital age: what format should ebooks be? How should they be priced? Who should have control of the supply chain? There was so much to be thinking about in the transition to digital, it’s not surprising that we dived so deeply and so long into the devilish detail.

"But if publishing as an industry has a future, it’s essential for publishers to look beyond the ‘how’ of publishing, to the ‘why’, the purpose. Why do those who want to publish, want to publish? Is it impact, reputation, career advancement, visibility? These are the needs we need to understand and address. What stories are they telling, and who benefits? And who should pay? There’s a wide range of stakeholders, including but not limited to readers, the ones who’ve traditionally footed most of the industry’s bills in the past.

"We need to reframe the problem and shift our perspective. Focusing exclusively on maintaining profitability from the sale of content to readers is a zero sum game. The opportunity for publishers now is this: find, mobilize, and monetize those invested in getting content published. Who is it that cares enough to foot the bill? There are many different answers: fans, funders, policy makers, organizations, institutions, companies, business leaders, governments, local communities, librarians, and of course authors themselves. All of them are in need of the publisher's skillset - editorial and production quality, marketing and promotion, discoverability and distribution.

"Some stakeholders are committed to the content, others are involved, still others are merely interested. Those who are committed, who drive the WHY behind the publication of any given piece of content, they are the WHO to whom we must look for the HOW.

"How is this different to content marketing? I’d argue that it’s not. I’d argue that all publishing today is a form of content marketing, since all content is competing for scarce attention for the benefit of someone: the author, institution, brand, organisation, whoever it is who wants the content to be published in the first place.

"It’s a truism of innovation that new forms typically don’t entirely replace the old ones, they coexist with them, the landscape becomes more diverse, and people navigate seamlessly between them. Video didn’t actually kill the radio star. Traditional publishing will not be replaced by service-based publishing, but it's a model that can and should coexist alongside it.

"The stories go on, the media and the models evolve and diversify; there has never been a more exciting time to be a publisher."

This entry was posted on 05 November 2014 at 22:01 and is filed under publishing. You can leave a response here.

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