Mike Shatzkin is the latest to opine on the future of book publishing. People take him seriously as a technologist, it seems. I expect he would flunk any test of minimal technical qualification. Actually, now that I think of it, I ought to publish such a test.

[T]he market is going to shift in some ways from now on between the time you acquire a book and the time you publish it. Every book that is being published now was acquired before anybody had heard of Twitter. And every book that is being published now depends on something that is in Twitter. So that’s going to be normal.

God help us all.

The Safari Bookshelf: Great idea. Makes a lot of money for O’Reilly. It won’t make a lot of money in every context, but the idea of a searchable bookshelf? It should exist in every vertical. And it will exist in every vertical 20 years from now…. [W]hen your relationship to the consumer is that you can deliver them a file, you are no longer captive to any particular format.

Mm, no, that is a statement of the problem. You absolutely want to be hitch your wagon to particular formats – open, standard formats with no fantasy creatures (unicorn, Cerberus, DRM) harnessed to the wagon.

We have six major publishers. We’re not going to have six major publishers for a long time. I’d be very surprised if we have more than four [of them] four years from now…. The Wiley-O’Reilly Rule is that Wiley and O’Reilly do just about everything smarter than every one else, but it’s almost impossible for anyone to copy them, because of the nature of their business, the nature of their markets, and the nature of their companies.

Oh, come on. A book is a book and an E-book (in specified format) is an E-book. Everything O’Reilly does everybody else can do. Publishers insistently maintain that what has been proven to work for one publisher could not possibly work in general.

The other thing we’re going to see is that E-books are increasingly going to have a content edge. Authors will force this on publishers. It’s very uncomfortable for a publisher, because I published a book in January, a major even happened in April which changes something. The author says, “I need to add six sentences!” […] That’s a real problem, but it’s a problem we’re going to be facing, because the authors are not going to live with their E-books being out of date when they don’t need to be out of date. […]

Publishers also recognize creative possibilities and ideas that aren’t fully developed. As a matter of fact, publishers usually buy projects based on ideas that are not fully developed, and participate in the development of ideas. That is a very important skillset. That doesn’t go away. And the publisher is coordinating the whole range of disparate activities that are necessary to connect the creator to an audience.

You know what that is: It’s putting the art in the book, it’s deciding what typeface [!], it’s deciding what price, it’s deciding how to market. But sometimes it’s finding a coauthor for the book, or sometimes it’s finding an illustrator.

Based on experience, I do most of that better than real publishers do. There are times when all you need are an editor, a copy-editor, and a designer. Does your publisher then become a mule?

Publishers generally lack a culture of technology, or culture of experimentation.

Because they all use Windows, hence are afraid of their computers. They’re sensitive literary types who can’t read a line of HTML and can’t understand what an API is no matter how many times you explain it to them.

You’ve got to have an IT department where you throw them an idea in the afternoon and they come back with a sketch for you the next morning…. I think that’s not where publishers have been. We don’t have the skills to hire that, we don’t have the skills to find that, we don’t have the skills to direct it, but we need it. This is something that is going to be a drawback for publishers moving forward.

If all you understand is a blue pencil and “Track Changes,” you are fucked.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.01.22 14:20. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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