I find doomsday groups to be entertaining. The idea that they have some mystical gift or special knowledge to see into the future and predict a coming disaster is comical and pathetic at the same time. However, we mere humans can analyze situations and trends and look forward to see change in process. Such a change is apparent in the publishing industry and it doesn’t take a belief in mythology to see what is coming.
There have been three elements to publishing: The Author, The Publisher, and The Reader. The publisher has been part of this formula because it has been the critical link between the author and the reader; however, the Internet and Social Media tools like blogs have bypassed the publisher. In addition, a new publishing paradigm has emerged that allows authors to publish low-cost books one-at-a-time in defiance of the industry’s it-can’t-be-done attitude. Now the publishing industry is scrambling to stay relevant to a world that they often abused by manipulating prices and the market.
For centuries publishers controlled who could or could not be an author because the great, and all-powerful wizards behind the curtain saw themselves as the gatekeepers that could predict what the free market wanted. They are the poster child of private enterprise.
The textbook industry was the most abusive to authors and readers by creating a system of profiteering off of the source of the knowledge (authors) and the recipients of the knowledge (students). In January, I wrote a blog on another website (see below) about the limited future for textbook publishing.
This morning National Public Radio (NPR) did a piece on today’s launch of Apple’s new iPad (one of thousands the media did this week) and how the publishing industry is facing a new reality.
NPR mentions Lulu.com which is a web-based enterprise that allows authors to publish books on paper or electronically for ebook Readers like iPad and Kindle. The author can get up to $10.00 per book on an iPad ebook that costs $13.99 and $8.00 on a standard book that costs $19.99 including shipping. In addition, there are no upfront costs and the books are only printed after they are ordered. Lulu has used today’s technology to do what the publishing industry has said could not be done: publish books one at a time at a rational price.
The publishing industry has become irrelevant in the Social Media age. By 2012 the publishing industry will be well on their way to the archives unless they dump everything they know about publishing and start over with a new model. I predict they won’t be able to do it.
Textbook Publishing on Thin Ice
Originally published January 2, 2010
Periodically you can foresee the rapid change of an industry that has managed to keep to their old ways long after its expiration date. While the newspaper industry has run head-on into the Internet/Digital age, the textbook industry has managed to fly under the radar and avoided facing the reality that awaits them.
Anyone who has, in the past 30 years, 1) attended college, 2) has had someone they know attend, or 3) maintained a pulse; knows that college textbooks have been overpriced. Today a typical paperback textbook costs from $75 to $150 and hardcover textbooks cost even more. The rationale for this has been that the small print runs for textbooks make the production costs high. While the faculty of colleges and universities have not been playing an active role in driving the cost of textbooks, they have been a partner in the racket by determining what books students will be required to purchase for his or her class, thus taking the buyer out of the supply and demand equation. The professor requires the book and the publisher sets any price they want.
The problem is that as we become fully immersed in the Digital Age the issue of cost of printing is ripped away from the publishers leaving them standing naked in the world of books. It can’t be to long (if it is not already happening) that a smart college or university President is going to see the competitive advantage by requiring faculty to provide all textbooks digitally and at a lower cost to the student. That will allow the institution to trade higher tuition for lower material cost to the student. The student still won’t win, but at least the false cost of textbooks will not be used to take their money.
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