The future of publishing

April 18, 2010 | 1 comment

Intersection: PublishingThanks to everyone who came to Intersection: Publishing yesterday. Our fascinating round-table discussion was cut off far too soon: I think we could have gone on for days and only barely covered the issues. It’s clear that an open conversation that treated publishers, authors, readers, technologists and lawyers as equals was long overdue. (Missed it? Watch this space.)

I thought I’d write down some of my takeaways while they’re fresh in my mind:

DRM is misunderstood from both sides.

From some publishers, support was shown for Apple’s locked-down App Store business model, with the assumption that it would prevent piracy. Of course, this isn’t the case. I think Sven Edge put it best to me during the post-debate drinks: “any technological system only becomes less secure over time.” In other words, you cannot assume that any technology is unbreakable; someone will do it. Trusting your business model to DRM is therefore a very bad strategy.

Publisher advocacy of locked-down Digital Rights Management technologies apparently occurs because authors need to be reassured that their work won’t be stolen when it becomes available online. A few authors present disputed this point of view. Regardless of this, more work needs to be done to educate non-technical people around the issues, in a calm way that takes in all points of view and doesn’t attempt to reform the fundamentals of copyright law or rights agreements in the same breath.

The market for electronic publishing is still too fragmented.

Many publishers present were worried about the variety of devices and platforms present on the market, as well as their quality. They simply can’t afford to target all of them, and many are either choosing to wait or work with third-party companies to develop solutions for them. All agreed that a single, open platform that allowed publishers to create content using something approaching their existing skill-sets is desperately required.

There also needs to be an open equivalent for apps, to give publishers a choice, and to allow them to deliver to multiple platforms at once. During the debate, I suggested encapsulating HTML5 (which has all manner of app-friendly capabilities) in the ePub format (which produces stand-alone bundles of content that can be sold and transferred between devices). I intend to write more about this another time.

The publishing industry is following the patterns laid out by the music industry.

On the future of publishingPublishers are signing authors rather than books, and are beginning to gather extra revenue through talks and activities surrounding books, just as – for example – musical artists like Madonna are beginning to sign to concert promoters rather than traditional record labels. Together with the DRM arguments above, I think there’s a real danger that the publishing industry could go down exactly the same road. (On the topic of DRM, note that iTunes is now DRM-free – don’t count that any restrictions on iBooks or App Store items will last forever.)

The knowledge gap goes both ways.

The assumptions that geeks take as being gospel are not gospel. The assumptions that publishers take as being gospel are not gospel. Each side needs to listen to the other and contribute to a productive conversation, without demeaning anyone’s expertise or experience. There needs to be both give and take.

To put it another way: the models that govern software do not govern publishing and the models that govern publishing do not govern software. These remain two different businesses, and must be treated as such.

There was some very heated debate yesterday, but also a great deal of very constructive argument. I’m really looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Intersection: Publishing is today!

April 17, 2010 | Leave a comment

Just a quick note that Intersection: Publishing is today:

This afternoon, professionals from the fields off publishing, technology and IP law will gather together to discuss the future of publishing. We’re excited about meeting the attendees, having some interesting conversations and helping to forge productive ongoing collaborations. This is an important time for the industry, and our culture.

We’d love for you to join us. It’s free.

No need to book; just turn up at 1pm. Venue directions are on the website.

Intersection: Publishing

March 18, 2010 | Leave a comment

Intersection: Publishing 2010 is a BarCamp which aims to discuss the future of publishing. There are a bunch of problems with the current models (for example, Amazon’s attempts at digital lock-in), and we want to get people from different backgrounds – publishers, authors, geeks, lawyers, marketers, academics – in a room to try and solve some of them organically and create some new ideas. It will be an informal, creative day.

You should come too.

It’s on April 17th in London, and is completely free. All we’d like you to do is either add your name to the wiki or let us know you’d like to come. (Even if you don’t do either of those things, you can still turn up on the day, but it helps us estimate overall attendance.)

I’m a technologist / lawyer / author / publisher / marketer / academic, but I don’t know anything about electronic publishing!

Doesn’t matter. In fact, so much the better. This is an emerging space, which needs new blood and fresh ideas. Your experience will help – and you’ll meet plenty of new contacts, with the opportunity for future business.

This is a great idea. How can I help?

Intersection: Publishing is already sponsored by the Stirling Centre for Publishing and Communication, but there are still some vacancies for other sponsors. Check out our sponsor page, or get in touch directly at or +44 7773 385 490. We’re also interested in volunteers on the day.

I can’t attend, but these issues interest me.

We’ve started an ongoing blog that will cover related stories and discussion. We’ll be posting there regularly, and are on the lookout for both guests and further contributors. If you think this could be you, get in touch.