The Revolutionary Future of Publishing

Will the world of book publishing be subject to the same revolution as the music industry because of digital content? With the Kindle (or iPad or Nook) do to books what the iPod did to record albums?

It’s not my question to answer. But Jason Epstein from the The New York Review of Books has an excellent view on this in his article: Publishing: The Revolutionary Future

Digitization makes possible a world in which anyone can claim to be a publisher and anyone can call him- or herself an author. In this world the traditional filters will have melted into air and only the ultimate filter—the human inability to read what is unreadable—will remain to winnow what is worth keeping in a virtual marketplace where Keats’s nightingale shares electronic space with Aunt Mary’s haikus. That the contents of the world’s libraries will eventually be accessed practically anywhere at the click of a mouse is not an unmixed blessing. Another click might obliterate these same contents and bring civilization to an end: an overwhelming argument, if one is needed, for physical books in the digital age.


  1. I think this gets it backward, though. In a world where everyone is a publisher and an author, the filters become more important, not less, precisely to separate “Keats’s nightingale from Aunt Mary’s haikus.” The question is whether traditional publishers will be nimble enough to figure out how to preserve their position as drek-filters before it is too late. The key is to emphasize the value traditional publishers add beyond simply manufacturing the dead-tree books: editing, designing, and publicizing books, but most importantly choosing them in the first place, finding them in the sea of garbage. What good publishers bring to the process, more than anything, is taste. I think readers understand that better than most hip, tech-savvy commentators suggest. Or maybe I’m just whistling past the graveyard.

    1. Bill –

      I agree that filtering is a key role for publishers. They need to find the good content. It is critical for them because they are also allocating capital to those filters when they send money to authors and print the digital words on to dead trees.

      One key difference is that they are filtering for what they think will sell best, not necessarily because it is the best content. Maybe that’s cynical of me. It may be garbage, but if they think it will sell then they may print it anyway.

      I’m not sure that I’m typical enough to rule on the death of book publishing since I have a two foot high stack of books to read and read more books in January than most Americans read in a year.

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