Some Observations about Publishing Dinosaurs

crossroads.jpgFirst published March 27, 2009

Before I leave the topic of this week's Executive Publishing Conference & Expo behind me, there are a few more observations that may be helpful to educational publishers about the general state of the publishing industry. I make these observations through the filter of attendees to another recent conference, South by Southwest (SXSW) which began as a small music festival and is now a signature meeting for music and interactive media.

I'll preface the rest of this post by stating that there are a surprising number of traditional publishers who are still "learning" that the world has shifted and that they are in great danger of becoming dinosaurs. At the conference I attended, there were plenty of people who have sailed into new interactive waters of online publishing and social media. These were best represented by some of the vendor offerings and some of the panelists. But many of the attendees from small to large publishers seemed to be hearing about the shifts in the rules of engagement for the first time.Can it be true that there are still publishers who don't understand that technology now makes it possible for everyone to be a publisher? Apparently so if we are to judge from the vitriolic reaction to a SXSW panel featuring traditional publishers. The following links provide a marvelous window on that debacle from folks who were there:

William F. Aicher points out that the publishing industry doesn’t seem to be getting  that they no longer hold the keys to the kingdom and takes the traditional publishers to task:

But in no instance, think it is your job to decide what is and is not worthy of publication. Yes, you should decide what is worthy of having your logo slapped on it, as you are building a brand – but the concept that it is your job to be the ultimate curator and gatekeeper, as well as to create one single item that people should buy is not going to work anymore.

Kassia Krozser of Booksquare berates traditional publishers with:

The future of publishing is already happening. People are doing it and they’re doing it really well. If you’re still worried about engaging bloggers, you are worrying about the wrong thing…

Finally, Kirk Biglione:

As presented, the panel was an insult to the audience and a waste of time for everyone involved.

So, what is the takeaway from all of this?

While there are both trade and educational publishers who are on the cutting edge of using technology to engage their audiences in new and different ways, there are still publishers who are waiting for someone to convince them that the ground has shifted. I discussed this in yesterday's post about the cost of fear and uncertainty.

The opinions of the SXSW panel above strengthen my assertion that "the worst outcome for a company is losing relevance to its community while sitting on the sidelines." Because this is exactly what is happening.

It's too glib to say it is an age-related issue. Some of the biggest proponents of facing reality and developing strategies to effectively compete in the "new" publishing market are senior managers in companies who were early adopters of digital technology and communication tools. But, for those companies who are still sitting on the sidelines without an engagement strategy, it's time to wake up.

What more evidence do they need? Are these companies on a fast track to extinction? When is it too late to make up for lost time?

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