Monday, November 07, 2005

Publishing's biggest challenge

It is a sign, I think, of the changing times when the best beginners-start-here summary of new developments in publishing is provided by a source in India. But that's the way it is. provided a link to an article in Business Standard, which is India's leading business daily, a newspaper published in seven centres. The article is headed Publishing's Biggest Challenge, and it provides as neat and thorough an exposition of the impact of digital technology on the book-publishing world as I have come across.

Of course, an article which runs to just a couple of thousand words or so is bound to be superficial in certain respects. But Devangshu Datta, who wrote it, has put his finger firmly on many of the key issues.

And here's a surprise. He's not too impressed with the quality of publishers' thinking. 'Publishing', he says, 'is globally amongst the most hide-bound industries in terms of leveraging technology in marketing.' Go on. Who would have guessed?

Datta takes us through all the recent developments, including of course the Amazon, Google, and Yahoo projects, and concludes that, one way or another, these will force a long-overdue review of definitions of copyright, fair use and libraries.

'An idea this big', he says, 'cannot really be suppressed -- and it will also force publishers to refine their e-book models, whether these specific initiatives succeed or fail.'

Exactly. In other words, whether they want to join the twenty-first century or not -- and there's plenty of evidence that they don't -- publishers will be pushed into it by economic forces. Either that or they will quietly fade away.

Some publishers, fortunately, are beginning to wrestle with these problems: Random House for one.

The Datta article is valuable reading if you want to make even a cursory effort to find out what's going on.

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