You may or may not have seen, but alas, I am leaving Pan Macmillan. In the New Year I will be taking up a position as Digital Publishing Manager at Profile Books and Serpents Tail. I'm at once sad to be leaving Pan and very excited to be joining Profile. Over the past couple of years it has been a privilege and a pleasure to write for the Digitalist (and I expect you will still find me skulking about). The Digitalist really is an open talking shop - unlike so many corporate communications channels the Digitalist really is just what we as a team have been chatting about. That spontaneous, open and, I hope, honest feel has always driven the blog and long may it continue. For all those who have been reading do feel free to get in touch when I start at Profile - I'm always interested to hear about peoples thoughts, ideas, conferences and symposia.
When I first joined Pan I came from a literary agency. The publishing landscape in mid-2007 was very different. Digital was, if not a full on dirty word, then something by turns feared, mistrusted, scorned and derided. As the content industries around it had been transformed trade publishing, for the most part, was not particularly interested, concerned as it was with the usual rounds of advances, sales, editing, rights, covers and, occasionally, reading.
Nothing changed overnight.
Sometimes in digital the hype gets too much and people expect the world to transform, to wake up one morning in a digitopia draped over the country like an unforeseen covering of snow. This doesn't- and didn't- happen. A line endlessly trotted out at digital conferences is William Gibson's brilliant observation that "the future is already here; it just isn't evenly distributed". That is why digital doesn't happen as fast as people think. Technologies move at bewildering speed, but habits, prejudices, knowledge, skills and desires often do not.
Nonetheless we are in a totally different world. The web 2.0 bubble came and went. A major retailer started selling ebooks before everyone jumped on board and another even created its own device and changed the game in the process. Then was the iPhone; the explosion of Twitter; the creation of a digital infrastructure of DADs and warehouses and conversion specialists and aggegators. There was the coming of age of Google Book Search and latterly the Settlement and Editions. There was, for the first time, real revenue from digital products. We went from a dearth of ereaders to an abundance. Even the idea of the ereader seemed under threat from mobiles and tablets, stymied by a fickle gadget buying public, perhaps before even hitting their stride, possibly to join the ghostly presences of the Betamax and the Minidisc player in the fabled Garden of Redudant Technology. (I don't actually believe that will happen by the way, but it is an arresting image). Digital departments became a permanent fixture on the staff of virtually every publisher. The media couldn't stop talking about ebooks. So a lot has changed.
A defining moment for me came a few weeks ago when I happened to be watching the adverts on ITV at prime time on a Friday (which I can assure you is a rare event). Suddenly there flashed up an advert for the Sony Reader, and lo, they did feature three ebooks, and one of those ebooks was Andrew Marr's The Making of Modern Britain, one of "my" ebooks. I confess to a surge of excitement and pride. Beyond the personal though, adverts for ebooks on TV seemed to really signify that ebooks have arrived; ebooks are for real and people are really picking them up.
So much for the past. Earlier in the year I predicted that mobile would be the big event of 2009. Along with Amazon and Google, I think that has certainly been the case, in hype if nothing else. Above all it was the iPhone that changed not just digital publishing but pretty much everything, ever. Reading OMG there's an app for that! stories on the Guardian has almost become a bore. A few days ago it was announced there was a military app for making war, which rather prompts the question of why anyone would take their mobile into battle, a question immediately answered by the fact that no longer is the iPhone a humble telephone but is, in fact, a deadly combat machine up there with Sherman tanks and the T-1000.
What about 2010? One word sums it up: access. This is something I plan on discussing in much more detail next year, but broadly I think access models of one form or another are going to be hugely transformative. I'm thinking Google Editions, Kobo Books, Spotify, a plethora of devices, shifting patterns of ownership and cultural engagement, the benefits of the Cloud, workable solutions that bypass DRM and its attendant issues. Watch this space.
Of course should 2010 herald the long awaited arrival of the Apple tablet then we all expect something if not quite of the iPod/iPhone magnitude, then something still sufficiently massive to rock the publishing world as the music and telecom industries were rocked before us.
Look forward to catching up then and in the meantime have a great Christmas and New Year. Signing out, MB.