For the past day and a half I’ve been thinking about the future of publishing in general and books in particular. I attended a book publishing conference where I met with and listened to a great many very smart people. I don’t know if I had an epiphany per se, but I think I got a glimmer of insight.
There was a common theme running through much of the meeting: plain old pulp and ink books will always be around but they are quickly becoming artifacts of a bygone era. They aren’t just losing market share to eBooks–they’re losing market share to everything: blogs, tweets, webinars, YouTube, iTunes et al.
At the end of the day, say the experts, content rules…but all bets are off about the form it will take.
One “strategy” (like most industries and professions, almost everybody has a thorough analysis of the problem but an incomplete solution): the book becomes the proverbial kitchen sink. Throw in everything! Include a website, urls, blogs, audio, workbooks, webinars, training programs…the list is limited only by the imagination. But since we’re not sure how much if anything people will pay for these enhancements, just figure out how to do it all for the same price or less.
So here’s my question: who has time for the kitchen sink? Another speaker on the same program shared that the average American household has the television on 8 hours and 18 minutes a day. He also said that 40% of each work day is consumed answering email. Doesn’t that beg the question: who has time to read a book much less click on the links, join the online forum, download the audio and sit through the free webinar?
The answer (my guess): some but not many.
The aficionados in any segment are always in the minority. They are not, by definition, “mass market.” Yet it seems the kitchen sink book is a niche strategy ill considered as a mass market approach.
I love to read and undoubtedly am in the highest percentile for book buying yet I rarely have time to read a book much less follow the long path of technological enhancements.
The future of publishing is a matter of time: how much of it people have to spend on books and their technological extensions.
Before we load up our books and publications with extra content and ways to access it, we need to figure out the difference between “enhanced” and “overloaded.” Maybe all those extras will be like the “shrinkware” in the early days of computer software. People bought software with good intentions but never took it out of the shrink-wrap. And if they waited too long, the software inside was outdated anyhow. They now owned version 2.obsolete.
But just as a confused customer buys nothing, might an overloaded reader access nothing? The density of information consumes more time, and the buzz around kitchen sink books suggests that density is increasing while disposable time is decreasing. (And yes, some will shop for content a la cart: they will prefer certain mediums, but not all mediums.)
So maybe the future of most consumer goods–not just books–is a matter of time. The ability to create something so compelling that people will not only pay for it but make time to use and enjoy it is critical. It isn’t about quantity and variety as much as it is about quality and value.
Lesser content gets displaced by superior content, even if it doesn’t come bundled in 27 formats. Compelling books trump enhanced books but an enhanced mediocre books is still mediocre.
But what of the noise? Thanks to the internet, everybody and anybody is a potential publisher. That is a topic for a different day…