Posted by Tom Foremski - April 15, 2010
Did you know that the first printed books in England would leave a blank rectangle at the beginning of a chapter so that an illuminated capital letter could be written in?
It's a great example of a hybrid publishing system, and we can see the same, although in different forms, as publishers transition to an online model.
This example, and other aspects of publishing's evolution over millennia, can be found in an excellent article based on a presentation by Guardian.co.uk Information Architect Martin Beam:
Journalism in the digital age: trends, tools and technologies.
But really it has been the development of the World Wide Web over the last 15 years or so which has utterly transformed the publishing landscape in our era. For mainstream journalism this has meant vastly increased distribution. The UK's major newspapers now have audited global monthly audience figures measured in the tens of millions, at a time when printed circulation continues a long-term decline.
Yes, but there's the rub: readership going through the roof but revenues falling. Usually, when readership rises, so do newspaper revenues, but this is not the case now. Wisely, Mr Beam doesn't tackle the thorny issue, or as I prefer to call it, the Gordian knot of the new media business model.
Mr Beam sticks to describing the wonders of the modern age:
It used to be the case that if I wanted to read the Belfast Telegraph, I pretty much had to be in Belfast, and hand over some cash to the newspaper sellers and newsagents around the city. Now, of course, I can read the website for free from the comfort of my own home, whether that is in London, New York or New Delhi.
This also means that every newspaper, in some ways is in competition with every other newspaper. If I'm a columnist at the Belfast Telegraph, I now have to possibly worry about a possibly better columnist at New Delhi's The Times of India. The world has shrunk faster than a cashmere sweater on the hot wash cycle.
The rest of Mr Beam's excellent article looks at the shrinking news cycle and the demands on news reporting teams.
In years gone by, news of suicide bombers underground in the Russian capital would have meant producing a graphic for the following day's paper — a lead time of several hours. Nowadays, Paddy Allen has to get an interactive map of the bombing locations finished, accurate, and published on the website as quickly as possible.
Interestingly, in his article, Mr Beam says very little about the other side of the media publishing coin: media produced by people who aren't media professionals. That side of the business is growing by leaps and bounds while the professional side is shrinking.
You and I now have a digital printing press in our pockets, capable of reaching potentially tens of millions of people at anytime, through our smartphones. Every screen, desktop or mobile is a potential printing press, you can use it to publish. This is huge. You used to have to be a multi-millionaire to afford a newspaper printing press. It's no wonder Rupert Murdoch is pissed off.
Yes, the media is dying, but long live the media, we now have more media in more forms than at anytime in our history. The Gutenberg press reshaped societies, redrew countries, destroyed old orders. What will this digital press do to us?
We will have even more media being produced... The media tsunami is coming and you will have to sink or swim. Sink in the information overload, swim in the detritus of crap content. That's one scenario. Or you could sink into some amazing content, swim, or rather surf on top of the tsunami, enjoying an elevated view of the world.
There's a media tsunami coming and that also means everyone needs to step up their game. As a media consumer you need to get smarter, you need to know how to use the filters, how to use your network, your friends, to find the great content.
And as a publisher, and we all are publishers in one way or another, how do you get the attention of people, your colleagues, anybody? You need to get better at what you do, what you publish, and how you do it.
If you are a company how will you survive the media tsunami? If you aren't visible you might as well not exist. And as we saw from the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, it comes in waves, each wave builds up a relentless rush of water, filled with debris. How do you stay visible?
You have to become a media company, you have to acquire the skills of a media company. Every company is a Media Company, EC=MC - the transformative equation for business.