There is no doubt that the industry is in a period of significant transition. What can we expect 10 to 15 years from now?… Ten years from now, there will still be more books sold that were printed centrally and warehoused for sale than all other ways combined, but the end of that era will be in sight.
The basic premise under which we’re operating here, I’ll summarize for those of you have never heard or read my work before, is that horizontal, format-specific media entities are oh, so 20th century, and won’t work very deep into the 21st. The reason for that is the web, which almost forces vertical organization. Horizontal presentations across subject matter — like CBS, Random House, or The New York Times — were the products of a capital-intensive, limited-distribution universe
There is a big picture and a long arc within which our day-to-day activities are taking place. The 20th century consumer media were horizontal in their subject matter — that is, very broad — and format-specific. In the States, that means entities like CBS or NBC in television, The New York Times, or Random House. All of these companies provide content across the full range of human subject interests, but they pretty much stick to their formats: broadcast, newspapers, and books, respectively
…in the 21st century, the net is flipping this on us. The net tends to self-organize us by subject niche, so the eyeballs and human bandwidth are linked to the niches, which are vertical, not horizontal. And because web interaction is about file exchanges, format specificity is meaningless. The file can hold text, art or photographs or other graphics, animation, moving images, sound, games, or code that helps us combine, sort, or tag things
We’re going to start with a view of what digital technology could mean to the overall world of communication over the next decade or two. What the history of the Internet seems to be telling us so far is that we will see a growth in niche organization — what people like to call “community” on the web — and a corresponding decline in horizontal media, which is much more threatening to magazines, newspapers, and broadcast than it is to us in the book business. But it will change us too