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What would you make out of a question like that?
Regardless, that was the exact question that Alistair Croll (co-author of Lean Analytics, BitCurrent, Year One Labs and one of my weekly link buddies) asked of Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, co-author of Book: A Futurist's Manifesto and my other weekly link buddy), Julien Smith (Breather, co-author of Trust Agents and The Impact Equation and author of The Flinch) and me at today's International Startup Festival. Under normal circumstances, this is a tough question to dissect and answer in a cogent way. We were asked to answer this during a concurrent session being held outdoors in a tent set-up with people mingling and networking outside. Trying to create some energy and excitement in the room (err.... tent) made my attempt frazzled. I'm hopeful that this blog post can clear it all up.
Traditional publishing still matters.
This isn't about big book and magazine publishers killing trees and maintaining the transport industry while feeding a distribution channel to retail. It means that these big publishing houses still have professionals who love and care about content in a way that allows customers to get true value from the products that they are buying. These products may be physical, digital, audio, digital audio or whatever. When I look at the people who work at Grand Central Publishing - Hachette Book Group (the publishers of my two business books, Six Pixels of Separation and CTRL ALT Delete), I do not see the same type of professionals that I was subjected to for over a decade while I was in the music industry. These book publishers know and understand that the landscape has changed, they know and understand that their consumers are buying their products and using them in new and different ways and, they're trying their best to not make the same bad decisions as those in the music industry. It's not perfect. They are some ugly things happening. There is going to be more messy stuff as we wander this road through business purgatory. Still, traditional publishing matters. It brings long form content to a bigger and more diverse audience. Not every author is going to have a shared experience, some will get book deals because they have a lot of followers on Twitter, and others will get a book deal because some editor believes that their content could set the book world on fire. As Seth Godin likes to say, your mileage may vary.
Self-publishing matters more than it ever did.
Take a look at the bestselling business books on Amazon's Kindle ebook page. Along with the expected slew of new and notable business books, you will find self-published and independent authors rocking this list with books as cheap as one dollar. With minimal technology and investment, anyone who wants to write a book can do so. It doesn't mean that it's going to work, and it doesn't mean that it's going to sell, but it does mean that they can not only write a book, but have access to a viable marketplace to sell and promote it. This doesn't mean that big book publishers go away, it simply means more competition and more choices for the consumer.
Digital publishing opens up a world of opportunities.
It is very alluring. Anyone can have a thought and publish it in text, images, audio and video instantly (and for free) to the Web (and to the world). Whether it's a simple tweet or all the way up to building a robust online publishing platform like Tumblr or Medium. The opportunities and the ideas are endless when it comes to digital publishing. With each and every passing day, we are seeing new and creative ways for people to publish - look no further than what is happening on Vine or what people are creating with Instagram's 15 second video.
It's just the beginning...
People crave content. It has never been easier to get content published or to make the decision to become a publisher. With that, more and more startups will launch new and inventive ways for content to find an audience. Will other kinds of publishing disappear? Possibly. Is it the end of the book as we have known them to date? Doubtful. People will still want and enjoy this type of content and media. I can't imagine an end to books or magazines. With that, this moment in time is a new beginning for the publishing industry with no end in sight.
What do you think? Are we at the beginning or the end of publishing?