Bye-Bye Books

by Charles Warner

Charles Warner is a media sales and management consultant/trainer, an active blogger at www.MediaCurmudgeon.com. He teaches at The New School in New York, and is the Goldenson Chair Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Charlie is also a volunteer teaching assistant in the Family Program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Until he retired in January, 2002, Charlie was a Vice President in AOL’s Interactive Marketing division. In 1998, Bob Pittman, then President of AOL, hired Charlie its Interactive marketing division. In the fall of 1999 Sales & Marketing Management magazine ranked AOL number ten in its list of the 25 best sales organizations in America—the first media company to make the list.

In several years books will be radically different. I don't know what form they will take, but one thing for sure is that they won't be ink on paper.

The same thing is happening to the book publishing business that has happened to newspapers -- executives, managers, and editors are stuck with their heads in a wad of paper, with ink running through their veins, and rigidly believing that publishing is inextricably linked to printing. They are stuck in a Gutenberg rut.

People in the publishing business communicate via email, buy stuff online, and read the news on websites, so they know that the Internet exists. But they haven't yet made the connection between what they do (acquire manuscripts, edit them, print them on paper, and distribute them) and what the Internet does (distributes information instantaneously).

In the early 1980s I did an analysis of newspaper management textbooks. All of them dealt with newspapers as though they were a manufacturing business. There were lots of pictures of huge printing presses and rolls of paper and there were chapters on printing (manufacturing papers), circulation, and dealing with labor unions. There were few pictures of newsrooms and no chapters on how to deal with recalcitrant reporters. Managing was about managing capital assets, not human assets, certainly not human beings that covered and wrote about news.

Last week I received an advanced copy of my book (printed on paper), Media Selling, Fourth Edition, and I was thrilled to finally hold it and turn its pages. I used the book last fall in a graduate course I reach at The New School. I put drafts of a couple of revised chapters of the book online for them to read, and I received no complaints from the students. No one said, "I don't like reading books online; I prefer carrying around a 600-page book in my back pack and having the tactile feeling of paper and turning pages." Of course not, they do virtually all of their reading online today.

As required reading for the course I listed no books printed on paper but, in addition to the online chapters, I included four blogs, the Business section of The New York Times which could be read online, and three podcasts. I also assigned several videos to watch. After one class toward the end of the year, I asked several students if they would like to be able to listen to Media Selling on their iPods (every student had one, of course), and their responses were unanimously and enthusiastically, "Of course."

I sent an email to my editor at Wiley-Blackwell, the publisher of Media Selling, Fourth Edition asking if they'd like to have an audio version of the book, which I would read and record. Here, in part, is the response I got: "I've queried my marketing team on the audio question and fear I have less encouraging news. We currently aren't set up to sell books through these kinds of channels in the academic division and have very little (or no) request for this kind of format with textbooks historically."

In 1976, when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak took their first Apple computer kit to retail stores on El Camino Real in Palo Alto, I'm sure several, except the one that finally took their new machine, said, "We've had no requests for a small, personal computer, so we're not interested." Remember, that in 1977 Ken Olsen CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation said "That there no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home."

Gutenberg's press was a disruptive technology, as defined by Clayton Christensen in The Innovator's Dilemma, as was the Internet, the personal computer, the iPhone, the Kindle, and Twitter. Disruptive technologies are no longer appearing every century, or every decade, or every year; they are appearing every month. Soon they will be whizzing at us every week.

So, to think that books, which are based on a technology that is five-and-a-half centuries old, will be around much longer is the ultimate Luddite delusion. Within a few years when students matriculate for their first semester in college, they will be given a devise, perhaps something similar to a Kindle or an iPhone that connects to the Internet, and a password. Included in their tuition and fees will be a charges for up-to-date synonyms for "books" and "library" and "personal computer."

Current libraries will be turned into museums that will display old printed manuscripts and books that are representative of the past -- collections in glass cases that you can look at but cannot touch. Historical relics in a reliquary. All books, including textbooks, will be available online -- no need for libraries -- and students won't buy them, they will subscribe to them.

As an author of a textbook, I will write Media Selling, have it copy edited by smart software, and publish it online to Amazon.com with whom I negotiated a deal directly. Amazon.com will have an educational division that will have an up-to-date database that includes all the people who teach a course that is related to my book and all media company managers who might be prospects for the book, and through an automated process Amazon.com will promote the book via email and AdWords on Google.

Students and professionals will subscribe to Media Selling on a yearly basis, not buy it. For that subscription fee, which will be about what the printed book costs today, I will be obligated to update the book quarterly. When book subscribers Media Selling, it will automatically be updated, just like my Firefox browser is.

Bye-bye 600-page heavy books, bye-bye libraries, bye-bye book publishers. Hello convenience, hello being current, and hello revenue that goes directly to authors instead of to Gutenberg's descendants and people who kill trees.

Please see Charles Warner's blog at Media Curmudgeon

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