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A Treatise On The Future of Publishing

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

Gutenberg proofs the printed piece

To borrow from Douglas Adams, it’s time for the publishing industry to stop worrying, and learn to love the internet. As one thing winds down, so another winds up.

A Little Background,  A Little Context:

The publishing industry has had 500 years to focus on the production of the printed piece. How is it that 500 years of industry could be in such crisis?

About 570 years ago, Johannes Guttenberg invented movable type, and shortly after that the mechanical printing press. With these innovations he essentially created the printed medium that we still interact with today, though increasingly less and less. These were enormous innovations, but beyond printing books and pamphlets this was the inception of something bigger and much more revolutionary. Guttenberg really created what was a superior information distribution system over the laborious production of the hand written manuscript, previously the cutting-edge of information distribution in the 15th century, and a distribution system controlled by just a few powerful institutions. The ease of distributing valuable information to people provided by the printing press was the catalyst to both the Renaissance and to the scientific revolution that followed. It was also behind the Reformation. It stoked a raging fire of literacy in people who had previously had little need for the ability to read, mostly because there wasn’t anything around for them to read. Mechanically printed content fundamentally changed the ways in which we communicate, collaborate, and learn. It changed the ways in which we interact with information, and changed the course of human history as, for the first time in the collective human experience, great numbers of people had access to information and to enhanced knowledge. This tends to empower us. However:

Print as a distribution platform has had a good run, but, as it disrupted the status quo of the 15th century, so it also has been disrupted by change at the end of the 20th century.

The Situation At Hand:

The proliferation of the internet as an information distribution platform has displaced print as the most efficient platform for delivering information to people. Guttenberg would have it no other way, I believe. Yet, in the face of this disruption the modern publishing industry seems resistant to the opportunities that the internet presents. The simple reality is that the pressures and challenges facing publishing have been a slow moving train of change over the last decade, and yet the industry seems to have still been caught unawares. This presents an environment of opportunity for publishers savvy enough to exploit it. Quite simply, here’s why:

Print and publishing are two different things. Print is an information distribution platform. Publishing is an industry that creates and delivers information over platforms.

Today, and increasing at an exponential rate, the platform of choice is the internet. From the perspective of the audience, the end user, the individual, the internet is an ideal platform for finding the information they seek, or for bringing that information to them. It should be an ideal platform for publishers, too. However, unwinding old habits and tradition is a difficult proposition, and this has created the crisis state that many publishers now find themselves in. Instead of innovating, they’re forced to react under duress.

All of this has occurred in an incredibly short amount of time. Yes, the internet as we know it has evolved from a real inception point of about 10-15 years ago, though the ARPANET dates back forty years, but practical and meaningful applications of information and content distribution via the internet have only been occurring within the last five to ten  years or so with the advent of a range of supporting technologies like RSS. Over the last five years, especially, things have changed very quickly, and the internet has disrupted multiple industries at the same time. Think about the challenges to traditional broadcast television presented by online streaming and online video distribution, by the imminent convergence of your television with your computer driven by the internet as a content delivery platform. Think about financial services, and how it is not only possible to manage your finances without ever setting foot inside a bank, but also that we are now more connected to our finances and the surrounding ecosystem of information than we have ever been before, all because of the internet. Similar change and disruption has occurred very visibly in shopping and in the music business. All have been shaken to their core by this still relatively new distribution platform. The publishing business is not special, and it certainly is not immune. The reality is that the internet will eventually replace a great deal of print media. For some publishers, if they survive, it will replace ALL of their printed media. In an interesting example of going back to the future, we are living in an environment incredibly similar to that which inspired Johannes Guttenberg, and for us the internet presents an information distribution platform capable of delivering information qualitatively better to exponentially more people. Without question, it is a superior distribution platform, one that is at our disposal if we so choose, and it is important to remind ourselves that the goal of any information distribution platform is simple, to enable the largest number of people to have access to information when and how they need and want it. Should that not also be the goal of the publishing industry?

As this played out in the 15th century, so it plays out now. For the future, at least as far as most of us can predict, the internet wins. Given this, there is no reason to see declining print numbers and think that the world is ending, the current state of reaction within hundreds of publishing firms at the moment. Declining circulation and subscription rates do not mean the end of publishing and it most definitley does not mean the end of content creation. Actually, it means quite the contrary and is in reality just the winding down of the print platform. What needs to be addressed is the fundamental business model of publishing, and the overarching monetization strategy of the content that is already being created. The three critical elements in a successful publishing business model still exist:

1. Valued information
2. The audience for this information
3. An optimal distribution platform

For many publishers, these three critical elements just need to be connected, and I guess it is rather startling that for many they still are not. While this sounds simple, there’s some important work involved.  Here’s the deal, though, it’s not rocket science. It’s very straightforward, with a few savvy, smart publishers and media companies already executing informed multi-platform strategies that successfully leverage the internet as a central distribution platform. The challenge is in thinking about key aspects of the publishing business model in very different, seemingly radical, ways. It is also the complete embrace of digital while moving focus away from print. There is significant opportunity here if we take valued content and maximize, enhance, and refocus it. The immediate opportunity is in bringing a cohesive, immediately executable, and profitable digital strategy to print focused, and probably terrified, publishing companies, a strategy that is designed to deploy content across multiple devices and enables people to access the information they need and want when they need and want it. Importantly, it will appropriately monetize content based on its utility to a specific audience. This is not limited to your computer, ereader, or smart phone and provides the opportunity for publishers to think and plan beyond the next quarter for the first time in a very long while. It also affords publishers the opportunity to again have a future. This is because the internet is medium and device agnostic. It’s screen agnostic, really, and the valuable content already being created by publishers should exist on whatever device is available and preferred by the audience publishers seek to reach. This is the best, truest manifestation of “be where your customers are,” which seems to be the exact opposite of the publishing business model that has evolved over the last five centuries.

My advice to publishers is to stop trying to protect legacy platforms and legacy thinking. Stop focusing on site traffic and acquiring audience. Get back to the heart of what is of value, refocus yourself on the content that you are creating and ostensibly trying to provide. Understand that our behaviours in how we interact with information have fundamentally changed. This is not a fad, it is the new reality, and the normal you have experienced for the balance of your career will not be returning. The time to accomodate this new reality is right now.

10 Things: The Power of The Network

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

I was excited to find David Cushman’s self-published book . It’s available on Lulu as a downloadable PDF for only $.84, which is an excellent bargain given the density of insights and provocative ideas that Cushman packs into its 98 pages. Cushman also authors the blog , from which much of the content for the book emanated, it being a compendium of Cushman’s writings from over the last year or so, writings on the future of advertising, online networks, the death of broadcast media, and the power of . He succinctly ties together a wide range of ideas we’re all writing and thinking about in various ways, and he does so in a way that very directly points us to the future. As he says on his about page: “The further ahead you look, the faster you go.” That’s a lesson he picked up from motorcycling, and one I can appreciate given my own penchant for racing, motorcycles, and change.

Below are 10 Things from The Power of The Network by David Cushman:

  1. The Death of Death: At the heart of the networked world is conversation, and conversation is “at the intersection of ideas, the driver of value of the network… The digital world is not about death. It is about life… The evolution has begun.”
  2. Don’t Just Witness The Network: If we sit still we are in the midst of witnessing some of the biggest changes since the industrial revolution. But it’s different this time because we can participate, we can all “engage with self-forming communities of (global) niche shared interest (purpose).”
  3. How to Go Viral: 1. Speak in an authentic voice. 2. Lose the TV envy. 3. Give people the tools to make their own. 4. Don’t bother with urls, links or ‘brand messages.’
  4. Communities of Purpose: Leveraging , Cushman points us to two important caveats, that real value is only created by communities of purpose, and this value is best enabled by synchronous response. He then points out that the gap between Reed’s Law and reality is navigation and discovery.
  5. What Now for Advertising and Marketing?: We’re really left with limited options like widget marketing (take advantage of existing advertising model and add viral and widget messaging), engagement marking (creating conversations, participating, listening), and no marketing (no advertising, no marketing, but instead the bringing together of co-creating communities).
  6. We’re All Publishers Now: Indeed. We’re experiencing an orgy of self-published content via the internet and through the success of self-forming communities. “The silent majority have had their day. The participating majority are coming.”
  7. It’s Not How Famous You Are – It’s How Relevant: Enough said.
  8. Reed’s Law and How Multiple Identities Make The Tail Longer: Don’t network for networking’s sake as limiting yourself to one-to-one communication presents little potential for collaboration. Networking openly stands to unleash the power of crowds, and “none of us is as clever as all of us.”
  9. We Are The Eighth Mass Media: From this chapter, a favorite quote: “We all have cheap, rapid, easy ways of sharing our metadata. That’s what publishing has become. Publishing for all. Advertising for all. We can all share content. Content is the conversation starter, conversation is where ideas turn
    into action, action is where value is created. Now we can all share in sharing this. We can all share ourselves. That is what changes everything.”
  10. How Are We Made Great?: Start with the Stowe Boyd quote: “I am made greater by the sum of my connections, so are my connections.” We live with the opportunity to consume an enormous volume of ideas/opinion/perspective. There are so many ideas that would go unrealized were it not for the power of the network surrounding the person who originated it. The catch is that predicting how people will respond to an idea is impossible, the network has its own proprietary wisdom, and from this wisdom comes the elevation of great ideas beyond the individual and to the many.

Getting Millennials Right. And Wrong.

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

The video above was shared with me by a colleague with whom I discussed this post, which I have been mulling over for about a month. The video is from a project by professor and 200 of his students at Kansas State University. A few weeks ago I attended a board meeting at which the president of a local university gave a presentation on “getting” generation Y, or . The board of directors is mostly comprised of individuals between the ages of 45-70 (and 90% male), I am by far the youngest person on the board being just outside that age range by a few years (and a gen X’er myself). As the presentation was announced there was a lot of murmuring, nodding of heads, and apparent agreement that this group definitely does not understand this new generation of young people, the generation that is beginning to and will fill the ranks of each of their companies. There is a lot of pressure on millennials. There are over 80 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement with only just over 40 million gen X’ers behind them. This reality is going to mean that the millennials, estimated at around 75 million, will need to step up and fill the very important talent and leadership void left by all the retiring boomers. What was presented by the university president made me very uncomfortable. This is because her presentation seemed to be incredibly general, and largely critical of this generation. She focused on broad, strange statements like:

  • Millennials do not read newspapers
  • They do not read books
  • They do not use libraries
  • They would rather communicate via instant message than in person
  • They cannot relate to older generations (????)
  • They do not understand the Cold War (????)
  • They grew up on video games
  • They like to be entertained (????)

I added the question marks above to emphasize my own bewilderment with those statements. All of these are actual points offered in the presentation. I was shocked as none of these statements is meaningful in creating an understanding of the millennial generation, or of anything. They seem to be observations made in the context of contrasting the observation against a different experience, as if that experience is qualitatively better, when in reality it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. With regards to the reading of books, magazines, and newspapers I believe it is true that everybody is reading the printed manifestations of these less and less, hence the ongoing demise of printing and publishing as industries. Excuse me as I speak from my own experience, that of a gen X’er, when I say that I cannot remember the last time I actually held a paper newspaper, and yet I subscribe to the RSS feeds and hit the websites of probably no less than 4-5 newspapers daily. Add to this the websites and blogs of magazines and that number jumps to 10-15 per day. I would consider myself a moderate user. The university president attempts to make the case that millennials do not read. I would counter that they read, and that they probably read more than previous generations. They’re not reading the formats that previous generations grew up with, they’re taking advantage of this new information technology called the “internet”. Yes, the internet offers exponential ways to entertain, but it is also an incredibly efficient connection to information and the world around us. Does that even need to be said anymore? The university president does not talk about how millennials are using technology like RSS feeds (I subscribe to over 200 sites presently via RSS), or how they strengthen their connections and networks with instant messaging, or how they have essentially grown up with incredible technologies as commonplace. I doubt that she actually knows what an RSS feed is, which is frightening because at some level this university president is informing the curriculum for her school, and determining how students are going to be activated through education at her institution. As I was listening to this presentation I could not help but think that the standard being communicated and on which this analysis of a generation was being made, was completely and totally baseless and irrelevant to reality, to modernity, and to the way things have changed. This is dangerous, and to paint a generation with critique based on experiences that pre-date the information age is useless to all of us, but especially to an entire generation that is connected to information in ways that were inconceivable a decade ago.

It might help for people like this university president to watch this video, also by Michael Wesch:

The Changed Landscape of Influence

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Matt Dickman recently conducted a really interesting over at his blog Techno//Marketer to get a sense of what people felt the most influential medium might be. The results are presented in the graph above. I believe it is a safe bet that his readers skew massively to the internet, but I believe they are still representative of the paradigmatic changes that have occurred in the greater media landscape. The broader theme here, that the ways in which people interact with information is changing, is something I am actively exploring myself. What is absolutely not surprising from Matt’s survey is the incredibly low performance of newspapers and radio. The of newspapers has been trending down for years, and many historically prominent rags are facing irrelevancy to their audiences. Audience preferences and expectations with regards to how they engage information is changing, this interaction is very fluid, and while some struggle to adapt to this reality others have been slow to respond and are suffering the consequences of a dwindling subscription base and shrinking advertising revenues. That spells doom for those newspapers. The same is happening in radio, and the is tracking similarly to that of newspapers. At the heart of this is the reality that we are increasingly moving away from having things pushed at us, and increasing moving toward technologies and mediums that allow us to engage media and information in ways that are dynamic and customizable to our preferences. Also, there is an informational frequency issue and newspapers, especailly, have struggled to compete with the 24/7 nature of the informational engagement model of the web. Those that have moved to a comprehensive web strategy have struggled to find an appropriate revenue model, especially one that can scale. We are watching media evolution and the survival of the fittest, of the most innovative.

Going back perhaps a decade, many newspaper publishers failed to appropriately survey the landscape for strategic risk to their organizations. As a result, they missed important opportunities to substantively investigate and innovate their business models. The web has moved incredibly quickly and efficiently in becoming pervasive in our society, in our culture, and many publishers now face the incredible challenge of trying to change a business model when it is absolutely too late.

Bold Predictions: The End of Print Media

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

When the newstand becomes an antique…

Discussions around the demise of print continue to intensify. Just last week I posted some of my thoughts on this matter, motivated to do so by the confluence of increased speculation as to the future of printed media. Then, yesterday, BAM! Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, in an , speaks his mind on the issue when asked for his outlook on the future of media:

“In the next 10 years, the whole world of media, communications and advertising are going to be turned upside down — my opinion.

Here are the premises I have. Number one, there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.”

Steve Ballmer of Microsoft

Video of the Ballmer interview:

I am not one to follow closely the predictions and strategies of Ballmer, or Microsoft, but this statement made my jaw drop. Fact: Microsoft is a force in the future of whatever media becomes. Fact: Microsoft devotes tremendous resources out of its tremendous resources to guide this future in a way that benefits Microsoft. Fact: Steve Ballmer is closer to this issue, in many ways, than the rest of us as he is leading Microsoft’s strategy with regards to media. Does his opinion have merit? Most definitely. He even points out that it might be eight years or it might be 15 years, the timing doesn’t really matter as the reality is that the result is inevitable.

Then, this morning via Twitter I come across a that approaches the issue from a slightly different angle, that the demise in print media is also being driven by huge changes happening in journalism. Newsrooms are shrinking, news media subscriptions are collapsing, and increasingly reporters are getting their information and tips from public web forums. That would make the big news media companies middle men for the news, with the end result being that the public gets this and prefers going direct to the source. Leaders at media institutions like the New York Times are in total confusion as to what is happening and what will happen next, and the New York Times has actually been a vanguard in pursuing the online media channel. Ten years ago the public needed the resources provided by the Newsweeks, NYT’s, and the myriad other special interest publications. The printed manifestation of this resource was the only interaction option. Following the change in that interaction, from the reliance on the printed piece to the irrefutable dominance of the online channel, is an exercise in realizing how traditional media outlets have been inept at surveying strategic risk and changing with the times.

Is Print Dead, Or Is It Just Really Sick?

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Gutenberg proofs the printed piece

The convergence of seemingly random events (the , this , by Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff, and by Lynne d Johnson) has put the “Print is Dead” mantra in front of me several times in the last week. Oddly coincidental or representative of a growing sentiment, you decide. Obviously, print is still very much alive, but how we use print has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. Dramatically. The reality is that for some, print is in fact very dead. For others it is dying, and for a shrinking portion of the population… print is all there is. Print isn’t dead, but it is pretty ill and the prognosis is not good. You would be hard pressed to argue otherwise, that print is alive and well, as there is so much happening that clearly supports the hard reality that the ways in which we interact with information has quickly tilted to the digital.

Our mobile technology increasingly breaks down the usability barriers between where we are and the content we want. This is not just about convenience, either, it is very much about connectivity and the ease with which we can leverage diffuse networks to find what we want. How can the printed page compete with that? Print publishers are struggling with this reality, and working hard to figure out how to transition their content assets in a meaningful way to the array of digital channels before them. Some have pioneered great strategies for this, and benefit from not just increased audiences, but from the concept of content adoption. That’s what we do on the web, we adopt content and send it around. We point people to it. We fold it into how we navigate information, and personalize its place in our information networks. This is incredibly useful, and is the reason why I no longer subscribe to a physical newspaper and only a few printed magazines (that I subscribe to because I like them and there is not yet an online channel for that content). I don’t even hit most newspaper and periodical websites anymore as the content I want finds me through a myriad of personal technologies that do all of the work of searching for me. Popular and free technologies like RSS and Twitter. I have always been a reader, but I have never read as much as I have the last few years and I would say that close to 90% of what I read is online. wrote a somewhat related post about this a few weeks back, and in that post he passed on a line that is unforgettable to me from an article in the :

“If the news is important, it will find me.”

Print is the opposite of that.

Social Gestures Beget Social Objects

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

This interview with by , which I came across because I follow Hugh on , is reinforcing of a conversation I had last evening about how companies might begin thinking about social media, and how social media might be helpful in building strong connections with their audiences. Specifically, we were discussing a company that produces outstanding content that people pay for, that when they find they generally love. Content that stands qualitatively above comparable content from most all of their competitors, but content that is ultimately difficult to find unless you are specifically looking for it. This company has no active digital strategy, that I can tell, and has not begun considering the benefits of meeting their audiences on their own turf. Imagine if they did? The really cool thing here, for this company in particular, is that there is virtually no risk and minimal cost for beginning to experiment with this. But there is a tremendous amount to gain, and to be gained in a way that is authentic and meaningful for those who seek such a connection and value the content that they create. That’s cool. And exciting. And potentially a wasted opportunity.

Meet Them on Their Turf

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Is anybody listening to what we are saying?

That’s a line from a really excellent slide presentation by and via that succinctly summarizes some of the best opportunities for companies today as they contemplate their interactive marketing strategy, and how best to connect with their audience(s).

Three of his points here that are especially meaningful to me:

  • Leverage the Content Management System - Huge value here, especially when combined with a thoughtful content strategy, analytics, and the focus to continuously improve and help audiences get the information that they seek. You’re only as good as your content is fresh. I am an enormous proponent of Wordpress as not only is schneiderism built with it, but two sites I am currently involved with are also taking advantage of what Wordpress offers. It has become a powerful technology for efficiently building effective websites and is very customizable from an interface design standpoint.
  • Combine technologies for a stronger strategy – Like using to promote new content or priority links to people that choose to follow you. Effectively combining micro-marketing technologies can create an incredibly macro effect by making it incredibly easy for people to find you, your company, or your perspective and to help you communicate to a much broader audience very quickly, efficiently and cost effectively.
  • Orchestrate infinite touchpoints - This is perhaps the most powerful slide in Armano’s presentation, and it relates very directly to the effective combination of technologies. Your messages can and should manifest themselves in a number of ways, and in a number of places. Starting with an effective website, also think about a mobile strategy, how you should use online social networks, and sites like , , and Twitter. Effectively combining these into a range of audience touchpoints is powerful, and ultimately worth spreading your investment. In terms of platforms, it would seem shortsighted to invest in only one (like a website) when a little additional effort can position you with a range of effective communications technologies, and the technologies that your audiences are using to get information. This would be the embodiment of the whole “meet them on their turf” strategy.

Another great line from the presentation is “make the participant the star.” Armano presents a total of ten points related to investigating your interactive marketing strategy, and they are all pretty tight so I suggest taking a moment to view the .

Do You Have A Mobile Strategy Now? How About Now?

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Big mess-o-people

I just read that a new study from has revealed there are now 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions world-wide. Yes, this number is misleading as more than a couple countries showed subscription rates in excess of 100%. But still, just last month it was reported that mobile phone subscriptions had reached nearly the level world-wide. Either way, we are talking about roughly half the world population having mobile phones. That should give all of us pause, at least for a moment. If you have avoided thinking about a mobile marketing strategy, and you know who you are (!), maybe now is a time to broach the topic. Nothing says I love you like half the world’s population.


The Sound of Inevitability

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

happy world

A former colleague, now working in publishing, and I have been trading emails on the future of print publishing and the implication of hesitating to actively engage an online publishing strategy.

That’s just how we roll.

Anyway, this dialog is motivated by conversations I have had recently with a couple people intimately ensconced in the traditional print world and who are struggling with how they might begin changing their model. They know that there are quality opportunities for them by engaging an online strategy, they are just profoundly unsure on where to start and what to do. Generally, I think it is safe to say that most people in print publishing accept that online communications are increasingly dominant over printed communications. This may scare them, but it is being increasingly accepted as the way things are going. There is an exponential effect at play here. For traditionally print based organizations, the transition from a print model to an online model is incredibly difficult, despite the potentially massive opportunity. The difficulty is largely from the perceived threat of online publishing within these organizations as those whose entire career has been based on print, despite most probably having a place in a company that also pursues an online strategy, will resist change, progress and the future. This can be said for so, so many industries. My colleague pointed out what we have all seen before, that when people feel threatened they do funny and irrational things… And this is the situation the two people I mentioned before are faced with. They know they need to change. They know that the future of their organization lies with a smart online strategy. They are prevented from the first steps of even investigating their options by the legacy notions of what print publishing is all about. They are being held back by the inability of their own people to grasp the importance, and the inevitability, of this future. Perhaps the internet is just a fad.

My friend also correctly states that if print publications are not smart enough to adapt on their own they will eventually be forced to adapt through the demands of their advertisers. We’re already seeing this as requests for online advertising opportunities begin to out pace an organization’s ability to deliver them. The big question is… Will these companies be irrelevant by the time they catch up with demand? Will they be beaten to their audiences by somebody faster and more nimble? It can be very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, but audiences increasingly want to control when and how they access content. And all of this, sadly, doesn’t even touch on the opportunities related to social networks, user generated content, etc… This is especially threatening to an organization that has always maintained total control of its communications. The thought of giving power back to the people is enough to cause seizures among many a management group.

It is easy to see how legacy issues anchor publishing based organizations in a 1980’s mindset, it’s happening everywhere and old habits die very, very hard. The future is inevitable, though, and I surmise those publications that are at the vanguard of merging their online and offline editorial (think about BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Forbes etc.) in a COMPLIMENTARY way are the ones that are still going to be around in 15-20 years. Outside of the infrastructure limitations of print, there is the whole access to customer/audience quotient that newstands and subscriptions just cannot touch. Also, proportionally leveraging the web and interactive marketing opportunities potentially far surpasses the traditional arcane reliance on direct marketing for subscriptions.

In orgs that predate the advent of the internet I suppose one way of bending the corporate agenda is to be non-threatening. Approaching the re-purposing of content, the marketing via the web, and the creation of interactive channels that give customers the information they want, when and how they want it, is something that can be proffered as an “enhancement” of traditional business practices. Over time, though, the results will be a vastly changed situation.