The future-now of Publishing and Music

I have an innate love for the Publishing business. It’s a family thing and runs deep.

My mum was an editor and published writer, my uncle is a hugely talented professional illustrator, my Dad’s nickname – we found out through a school friend who had a part-time job at the local library in  Hove – was ‘Mr Library Man’ for all the yellow card tabs he’d bring in every week, ordering more and more books in 🙂

And so it continues: my sister works in publishing, so does my cousin.

But my love of publishing was never really to do with all that ‘big publishing’ thing. It was more the fact that I was able to create whole worlds of my own, sat on my own at home.

I used to write stuff at home, stuff for Dungeons and Dragons that was mainly just for me, a highly profitable, highly inappropriate every-so-often newsletter for my Air Training Cadets ‘squadron’.

And the miracle was hitting PRINT and seeing my world coming to life – leaving the old Apple Mac and entering the real world. It’s that paper thing, that tangible thing, that same moment when you get your first business cards done, or see your website go live. Freedom! Self-expression!! BOOM.

For those kind of reasons I’m really really gripped by how publishing is evolving at the moment, right before our very eyes.

Industries are supposed to evolve over years – like glaciers – but watching the Publishing, Music and Big Media businesses, it really feels like watching a timelapse video turned up to 11. The changes happening right here, right now. It’s not a distant future, but more like a future-now.

Of particular interest and excitement to me are:

  • The impact of Kindle and iPad on the book publishing world
  • The grasping for new business models in the music business

In the book publishing world I am fantastically excited by The Domino Project – its DNA a double-helix of Seth Godin the digital seer, and Amazon the gigantically successful ecommerce and digital content business.

If they can’t make a dent in the problem of how to really create value with content in a networked world, I’m not sure who can.

And this whole post was prompted by this short but very interesting Nieman Lab piece on how libertarian economist and published author Tyler Cowen has published his latest book as an ebook only at $4.

This is the pivotal comment, for me:

JB: If the ebook platform didn’t exist, what do you think you would have done with the book’s content? Chop it down to a magazine piece? Turn it into a series of blog posts? Inflate it up to 250-page hardcover length? Would it have found a useful life otherwise?

TC: No ebook format, no book. At least in this case. I may try the format again, of course. I don’t like to stretch ideas to excessive length and magazines often want everything to be driven by the anecdote, which doesn’t really fit here.

Here’s a guy in control of his destiny – multiply published in real books, with a very successful blog behind him, choosing a digital format because it suits his goals.

Not about desperation and survival, instead this is about picking and chosing, about having real options, and addressing the digital world as a true native, not a latecoming and awkward newbie.

In the music business I have less practical experience and knowledge, but through a friend who has been a successful artist in a top-selling band and who now manages a number of acts as a professional manager I’m starting to learn just how much needs to change in that world.

This friend is trying to create a new kind of organisation in music: cutting out major labels, managing and actually incubating the talent, bringing into their influence the relationship with the audience, testing and proving/disproving the 1000 true fans model, rejecting the 360 degree model, creating direct and warmer relationships with their fans, and trying to invent new sustainable business models. Cool challenge eh?!

If I was going to do a start up today, it would definitely be in the media ‘space’ – you have to call it a space when you’re talking startup lingo (as a friend said – what happens if you’re in the Space business, do you call it the space space?!!) – probably not music because I know the least, but certainly publishing or possibly TV (which I haven’t touched on because I don’t need to – see my colleague Anna’s fantastic Tellyflux blog on the future-now of TV).

Amazing times.

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