June 9, 2008

News & Opinion: A reply to Seth from a publisher: "No. We don't own the trees."

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:00 PM – Filed under: Publishing Industry

Seth recently critiqued newspapers and book publishers' focus on paper as the vehicle to spread information.
If you think your job is to keep the printers busy, then you see the world differently. You focus on per issue sales, you worry about people sharing a paper (!), you don't count online readers as valuable (even though they're more valuable). You focus on one edition, not a thousand different versions. You focus on having one front page, not dozens based on who is reading.

Reading into the post, he asks why are publishers and newspapers caught up on using paper when there are plenty of other methods (e-books) that are more environmental and consumer-friendly. Of course, transferring to a new distribution system is never as simple as it looks. I ran into a reply to Seth's post from Jesse over at Chelsea Green, a publisher known for their green practices; the reply included four valid reasons for why publishers haven't fully embraced the digital revolution.
  1. No protection. The publishing industry is not blind. We've watched the music and movie industries grapple with piracy. A 3MB book file is much easier to distribute than a 2GB movie file--which is getting easier. Do we throw ourselves into the piracy frenzy? (The answer is yes, of course. But not just yet, as there is no widely accepted avenue for purchasing ebooks. A consumer's only option right now for building a digital collection would be--for all intents and purposes--piracy.)
  2. No format. The ebook format wars are still in the 'limited skirmish' phase. Open war has not yet begun, let alone been settled. My money is on DRM-free PDFs due to the existing PDF ecosystem and consumers' distaste for never REALLY owning the items they buy. But where's the protection in that? Do we bet our jobs on the honesty of readers? I argue yes, absolutely. But you can see why this thought gives publishers reason for pause.

Continued over at Chelsea Green's blog.
We've brought up the debate several times on this blog. We're still holding out bets for when the digital revolution will happen. Personally, none of the e-book readers are user-friendly enough to fill the job yet. I'm still holding out for Apple to invest in an ebook reader. Then perhaps, this conversation will take another turn.