The End of Publishing

Scott pointed me to an interesting interview with Clay Shirky, part of a series of posts called How We Will Read, in which he discusses the future of publishing.

I love the same section Scott highlighted in which Shirky responds to the question of how publishing is changing.

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install. [emphasis mine]

However, Shirky also has something to say about the business of digital publishing that directly reflects the textbook industry to which we in public education are so wedded.

The original promise of the e-book was not a promise to the reader, it was a promise to the publisher: “We will design something that appears on a screen, but it will be as inconvenient as if it were a physical object.” This is the promise of the portable document format, where data goes to die, as well.

Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Now publishers are in the business not of overcoming scarcity but of manufacturing demand. And that means that almost all innovation in creation, consumption, distribution and use of text is coming from outside the traditional publishing industry.

So far, the digital textbooks I’ve seen from the major publishers – and certainly those our overly-large school district has adopted – fit that description of inconvenience, scarcity, and lacking innovation.

Anyway, Shirky’s larger message about “social reading” is much more interesting. Go read the whole thing.

It’s a Simple Request

Although in the past I’ve had plenty of concerns about ebooks sold by Amazon and others, I’m now hooked on them and will likely not be buying paper versions anymore.

From day 1, reading materials on my iPad has been a great experience, and I’m increasingly avoiding paper and using it for quick access to all kinds of files, work-related or not.

But up until a few weeks ago I’d only bought one commercial title from an online book store (mostly out of curiosity), despite downloading dozens of sample chapters.

So what changed?

Someone created a dirt simple way* to remove the DRM from Kindle and other ebook formats.

It’s not that I was holding out so I can post copies on the torrents or start selling them out of the back of my virtual car.

I simply want to be able to easily give a book to a friend when I’m finished with it, or loan it to a family member.

The same ability, the same rights, I’ve always had when it comes to items that I purchase for my non-digital library, including video and audio.

I’m not asking for much, am I?


* The link goes to a Mac-only solution. A slightly less dirt simple method for Windows users is here.  And no one seems to have created a way to remove DRM from files sold in Apple’s iBook store so they will still be getting none of my business.