Jan 30, 2009

Bust in Media & Publishing - Boom in Books?

Today, the Publishing Industry is clearly operating under a different economic model than is was in the past, and most people are inclined to believe that the downturn we are seeing is primarily the result of new technologies that are leveling and shifting the playing field. Quality content is available almost instantly in digital formats, at low or no cost, via computer or phone-based ebooks and audio podcasts. Printed books as we know them, professionally printed in black & white or full color, are within reach of almost every author. Most importantly perhaps, the means to distribute and promote new works is globally manifest in the incredible reach and speed of the Internet. Through websites, blogs, forums--and most of all--social media tools--the Internet now providers authors and readers with a wide range of intimate venues to promote, comment, critique, debate, exchange ideas and raise awareness of an almost limitless selection of creative works. Many are good. More are bad. But the Internet provides almost equal access to all in terms of distribution and the theoretical possibility of having a book reach its maximum potential.

The traditional book publishing industry continues to be hit hard by these trends. Print media in general are feeling the pinch, as high operating costs (which could be tolerated under the old publishing model) are no longer sustainable. Advances are lowered, marketing budgets slashed, new writers are overlooked...and many people are put out of work. Things are in a state of contraction, that is certain. But I think this contraction is leading to the birth of something else.

There are so many people finding themselves on the street these days, it's incredible. There are Twitter accounts, like TheMediaisDying which do nothing but record, like an ancient tickertape, the bad news of a falling media market. A few dozen jobs here...a few hundred there...another magazine shuts its doors...the sorry tweets drip down the page like dirty antifreeze out of a leaky old radiator. And it's not just media types. Real estate agents, advertising pros, software programmers, statistical analysts--it's almost like everybody is out on the playing field now--many with knowledge, expertise, talent or ability that had a high value when things were better.

You think to yourself - what does it all mean? What are all these people going to do?

Well, what they are probably going to do is accelerate all of the trends I discussed above. Given access to the Internet, any type of smarts, a rudimentary knowledge of social media and a talent for self-promotion, a large number of these people will be starting blogs (if they haven't already) connecting on Facebook or Twitter, and generally re-purposing all of their accumulated knowledge. What they know or love will be converted into a new form that will put food on the table, get them a new job, or open up a new career.

Already, it's easy to see that one of these new forms will be BOOKS. One look at how many of these newly-minted experts are promoting a new ebook on "How to Build Your Business Through Social Media" or something like that, and the future is pretty evident. Now multiply that scenario by many times, and throw a large number of former media people--writers, artists, photographers, editors--into the mix, and the result could be like one of those lab beakers that boils over when the right mix of chemicals is poured inside. Fairly soon we'll have even more ebooks, POD books and online magazines than ever before, in more forms than ever before, and with the motivated talent newly "available" -- probably of a higher quality than we have had before. There's an old saying that "everybody has at least one book in them." Well, we're about to find out.

Up till now, things have moved quickly, to be sure. But I think based on what is happening in the job market right now and the inevitable improvements in technology, the forecast for the next couple of years is that we are going to see quantum leaps in overall output and availability, promotional innovation and hopefully--quality. That's exciting...for those who are ready.

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