A book publisher's manifesto- Part IV

Customisation will not stop at bundling multiple texts together, though. Something that has shocked traditional media companies perhaps more than anything about the Web 2.0 world is the desire of consumers to produce and to share rich media content of their own rather than or in addition to being passive consumers of media streamed down to them by the corporations. The explosion in blogs, the popularity of digital photo sharing sites, the more or less overnight success of YouTube, the rise of ‘citizen journalism’, the development of ‘machinima’ (the creation of films or clips created by gamers manipulating the characters in video games) all bear witness to the strong desire of individuals to express themselves and their creativity and to share their productions with the world via the Web. As Jeff Gomez points out in his book, Print is Dead, the emerging generation of digital natives quickly graduated from ‘Generation Download’ to ‘Generation Upload’, a generation which is “beginning to define itself by mixing, mashing, and combining disparate elements of what they’ve pulled from the Internet and then changing it into something else.” Publishers will need to provide the wherewithal for these new ‘prosumers’ to customise published texts, to create their own complementary, ancillary content and to link it to the core text if they are to continue to provide an experience of reading which engages ‘Generation Upload.’ And as a new generation of readers interacts with texts online publishers will be wise to place themselves in a position to harness the network data and collective intelligence produced by social annotation and media creation, the sum of the “Wisdom of Crowds,” and to apply this to its future content development and to its marketing. But as texts become increasingly interlinked and prosumer-generated ancillary content and commentary grows, and as the distribution model moves from chain to network, the power of search – a.k.a. Google, at least in today’s world - will only increase. The economics of distribution have been devalued by the digital content stream, but access – and search - have become all-important. Publishers in the trade space especially – and Amazon, too – might well be focusing far too much attention on the future of the download. Could it be that Amazon is betting on the wrong horse, assuming device (Kindle) plus distribution platform (Amazon eBook store) will be the killer combination? Many publishers are watching the mobile space with interest, and even more are observing Apple particularly closely to see how the iPhone and the iTouch perform, and whether either is widely adopted as a reading device. Both devices are already very text capable and Apple is likely to improve these capabilities. As Adam Hodgkin points out in a November 2007 post on his Exact Editions blog, “Amazon versus Google for eBooks?:

“Google with its Book Search program and its alliances with publishers and libraries is going to occupy the place that would otherwise appear to be Amazon's of becoming our preferred source of access to published literature. Amazon seems to have taken a wrong turn in supposing that distribution, rather than access and search, is the key challenge for digital print.

The TeleRead blog has been giving the most thorough all-round coverage of the Kindle and Sony eBook readers. David Rothman who blogs many of the TeleRead pieces admits to being close to being a Kindle supporter; he probably would be, if only it eschewed DRM and embraced the .epub Open eBook standard. But what would Google say to the .epub format? Google will ignore .epub, which is inimical to their advertising business model. The Google Book Search approach makes downloads irrelevant (the downloads GBS provides are very clunky, much less usable than the online GBS). In fact, for Google, downloads are just as outmoded and unneccessary as DRM.

Google and Apple, between them already have the solution for eBooks (and it’s not a download solution). Read and search on your iPhone and access via a web browser, anything in print can be handled that way. More to the point: everything in print can be handled that way. Everything will be searched via the web, everything will be accessed via the web. Downloads are pretty much of an irrelevance. The question is: what do authors and publishers plan to do about that?

Answer: "Maybe the publishers should themselves try selling/granting access direct". Aside from Google with its Book Search, the publishers are the other variable in the market-place which has a promising opportunity if the Amazon Kindle download system bombs. .. After all, scientific and technical publishers have made a reasonable fist of creating a digital market for their STM periodicals. Book publishers need to create access opportunities and figure out how to sell digitally direct".