You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything


How does commentary affect the world around us?

It’s the (e)Content, Stupid

“I’m not in the business of selling books. I sell writing,” Irvine Welsh told the Times online, adding, “The screen might not even be with us in 20 years’ time–but writing will.” Welsh’s comment gets at the heart of a common conundrum–“what will become of books?”–and reveals its irrelevance. Books were never the point; they were just the most convenient vehicle for content for a long, long time. Perhaps they still are. But technology has created infinitely more platforms for content, for customizable ways to display writing (not books) on screens, phones, and other devices that didn’t exist just a few years ago. We don’t need books, necessarily—we don’t even need writing, if you get right down to it. Just so happens that we do need information, and the written word has traditionally been one of the most efficient ways to communicate it.

The decreased need for books, or at least the greater feasibility of alternatives to books, has sent the publishing industry into a panic. What will be the next book? How can we make money from ebooks? Latching on to the notion of books, even ebooks, may be a mistake, as it allows publishers to attempt to translate a traditional book publishing business model to online content.

I recently ran across a random post on a random blog that makes an interesting argument about music, one I think that may translate to books (italic emphasis original; bold emphasis added):

…there is no new business model for music. It doesn’t matter whether you fight the new technology or embrace it or try to appease it; there’s no new business model for music because there was never really an old business model for music, either. There was a business model for record companies once, maybe, and there are new ones for celebrity persona-management and soundtrack-placement or something, but these are not business models for music. They are not models for how any particular person who makes music can afford to not hold other employment, and they are not models for how any particular person who loves music can express that love as effective economic catalyst or responsive reward. There is no economic system for maximizing expressive opportunity or artistic greatness. There are not even really business systems for expressive subsistence or artistic sufficiency. Mostly we have music because we are human, and one of the things humans do is sing. Periodically we hold lotteries you enter by singing, like we sometimes hold lotteries you enter by playing basketball or by lying to people en masse. But these are not businesses. Or, more accurately, they are precisely businesses, but businesses for selling dreams, and for selling tools for dreaming, and for selling memorabilia from having once dreamed.

Likewise, I think, it can be argued that there is no business model for content: there many be business models for different types of content, in different situations, but none that works for all types of content, in all cases. Perhaps this means publishers should specialize in business content, or sports content, or literary content; this type of specialization is often the case, anyway. But publishers can no longer just focus on turning existing books into ebooks, or signing up authors and turning their work into PDFs. It’s now a requirement to consider the best format for presenting information: a traditional book? An ebook? A YouTube video? Not every topic calls for 250 pages of print, even if that’s what best fits signature requirements.

But it’s not only the content, e or otherwise. It’s also our responses to it, which technology has also opened up many more forums for: emails, blog comments, YouTube video responses, replies on Twitter. Publishers must consider not only how best they can best utilize content, but also how they can best open it up for discussion.


Filed under: Business Models, Content

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