If you don’t know who Jason Epstein is, don’t worry. As someone who’s playing catch-up on a whole host of publishing-related issues I didn’t recognize the name, but after reading his 2009 ROC keynote I probably won’t forget it in the near future. Here’s a sample:
The radically decentralized digital marketplace has already rendered traditional publishing infrastructure — warehouses, inventory, shipping, returns and so on redundant. Like American automobile manufacturers traditional publishers will persist in their traditional mode as long as they can, but they cannot indefinitely defend their institutions against disruptive technologies any more than the monks in their scriptoria could withstand the urgency of movable type.
Because we live in a socially-distracted and self-obsessed America, it’s already been forgotten that the entirety of the United States automobile industry crashed to earth and crumpled on impact like a crippled dirigible only a few short months ago. Though there were no flames, the collective balance sheet of one of America’s (and the world’s) mightiest industries bled so much red ink that it died on the operating table, only to be resurrected by the rather neat trick of selling off organs in order to keep the skin intact. That skin is now being paraded in a wave of commercials expressing deep interest in green technology, electric vehicles, and any other buzzword that might attract buyers and investors.
The publishing business will probably not fall as hard, but it will fall. Every half-step into the inevitable future that a given publishing CEO decides to take will rationalize the omission of the next ten necessary steps. But that’s what happens when you tie yourself to shareholder value instead of trite ideas like quality or customer service.
If you want to know what the future will look like, read Jason Epstein’s full speech. If you want to know where the opportunities are, read Jason Epstein’s full speech. It’s all in there, it’s going to happen, and I didn’t disagree with a word of it.
— Mark Barrett