What is Going to Save the Publishing Industry?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about the demise of the print industry and can’t help but think of my humble beginnings. I started out putting designs together manually using light tables, velum paper and stock art books. I’ve done every step of the process, from design and desktop publishing through production and finishing. I’ve shot negatives, developed plates, run a press, and finished it off with bindery and other finishing equipment. I think the only thing I don’t have experience with is manual typsesetting.

No, I’m not that old. I was just fortunate enough that my high school graphic arts teacher made us learn everything the old fashioned way. When I got into graphic arts in 1994, computer-based desktop publishing was around (we had direct-to-plate technology already) but we still had to learn how to do everything old-school before we were allowed to use Aldus Pagemaker on the Mac LCII’s. Yes, Aldus Pagemaker.

I eventually became production editor of our schools newspaper, where I was responsible for everything related to its actual print publishing. I guess the Internet was around back then, but I wasn’t into it yet. I never would have guessed where print publishing would be in 15 years. Never.

The Demise of the Publishing Industry

Newspaper vendor, Paddington, London, February...
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In the last couple of years newspapers have been going out of business left and right. The Newspaper Death Watch website chronicles the decline of newspapers and print publishing. It reminds me a little of F*$%#d Company back in the dot-com bust days. What is wrong with these people? With production costs going up and advertising revenues going down it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to deduce that there need to be drastic changes or an entire industry could disappear.

Newspapers and magazines have tried everything they can think of, without breaking from their existing business model. They tried increasing advertising costs which led to fewer advertisers. They tried charging readers more for print editions, which drove people to read the same content online. Then they decided to charge for online access, which just drove people to other (free) content providers.

So who or what is going to save the publishing industry? Read on…

Who’s Gonna Save Publishing?

SAN FRANCISCO - JANUARY 27:  (EDITORS NOTE: Re...
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I know, I know. With this being the day Apple announced the iPad, you’re thinking I’m going to say that Apple is going to save publishing. Actually, I think Apple has let us down. Usually an innovator, Apple’s new tablet is just that. A tablet. It surfs the web with new touch controls but is still just an Internet appliance (or a big iPod Touch, however you want to look at it). I think Amazon has done more to save publishing than Apple. At least they created a really easy way to buy and distribute a certain type of media online (books). So maybe the Kindle or other e-ink book readers can save publishing?

Nope. Wrong. They still have fundamental flaws. See, it’s not about the device. It’s not about the hardware. It’s about the experience. Not the same experience, a better experience. We’ve been consuming content on web pages forever, we know how to click links and navigate web pages, but that’s not necessarily the best way to consume content. Neither is a newspaper or magazine, but they’re what we’re used to.

So who or what is going to save publishing? Sports Illustrated is going to save publishing. At least, if the old fogeys that run these publishing companies will open their eyes for a minute.

Companies keep coming out with devices that mimic these experiences instead of backing up and really thinking about all the different content types that are out there. Written articles, photos, video clips, audio clips, RSS feeds, links, tags, the Twitter stream, etc.

Well someone at Sports Illustrated gave it some thought and came out with a really intriguing new interface. It’s just a demo right now, but it’s amazing. Check out the video below:

It doesn’t matter whether it runs on a regular Tablet PC, an Apple iPad or an HP Slate… it’s the software not the hardware.

How Will it Save Publishing?

I don’t subscribe to Sports Illustrated, but I would damn sure pay for the Sports Illustrated application if it works like the video above. Print publishing is doomed. Books are here to stay, but magazines and newspapers are digging their own grave. Nothing can save them.

But it’s not the magazine or newspaper we care about. It’s the content. We’re addicted to content–good, quality content. Photos. Videos. Interactive diagrams. We’ve gotten used to the rich content accessible on the Internet. Print media just can’t cut it. Neither can the e-ink devices like the Kindle.

A software platform similar to the concept by Sports Illustrated on a device like the Apple iPad or HP Slate will save publishing. It has everything we want… it’s easy to navigate, easy to consume rich interactive content, small, lightweight, etc.

We can hold it in one hand with a cup of coffee and read the morning’s paper, or watch our regular news show streamed live on Hulu.

Will They Listen?

Honestly, I don’t know. These old guys in the print industry have been hanging on for dear life to their old ways and don’t seem to even want to change. I’m not sure if they’ll embrace this new technology or not, but I do know one thing. It doesn’t matter.

The technology is here… the software is easy to make. The content is already out there. If the big publishers don’t do it, a small startup will and they’ll come out of nowhere and snatch a huge chunk of marketshare.

Hmmm, I may have said too much already… I’m off to write a business plan and look for venture capital!

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