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
I am not predicting that everybody will read on screens. You probably know that I’m a fan of the Kindle and perhaps you know that I’ve been an avid ebook reader on a Palm for almost 10 years. But I’ve learned that other people’s attachment to paper is greater than mine. And anyway, it would be a good thing for general trade publishers if there were more screen takeup; it would mean keeping the readers for their content and not necessarily any loss in margin
Industry guru Mike Shatzkin foresees big gains in e-book sales, consolidation among literary agencies, a jump in customized book sales and much more…. You won’t catch me climbing out onto any billion-dollar limbs as I offer my forecast for book publishing in 2008, but some of the changes I envision do call for fundamental changes in how the business operates. There is an overarching theme to the changes already taking place. Consumer media in the 20th century tended to be horizontal and format-specific. The New York Times and Random House define “horizontal”: they publish across all interests and markets. The Internet will drive 21st-century publishing enterprises to be more like what professional publishing has always been: highly vertical and format-agnostic.
…even though we’ve seen our business get tougher in many ways, some of the predictions made at the turn of the century for big changes in this decade, such as disruptive ebook takeup, just haven’t come true. The book business has, arguably, been less affected than any of the other major media by digital change. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “arguably.” Maybe I should say “apparently.” And CERTAINLY I should say “so far.”