Today I dropped the "self" from the title of this blog because I find I'm writing more and more about general publishing issues, of which self publishing is a subset. But don't expect me to become a publishing technologist. I see the technology and content components of publishing as existing in opposition to each, rather than in partnership. To quote a well known former self publishing blogger of the 21st century, "Technology is the last refuge of a scoundrel." I'm not such a Luddite to question the value of cut-and-paste in editing, though as the video below shows, I find cutting the more valuable of the pair:
The publishing world is rapidly filling up with new standards and devices, none of which I believe are doing anything to boost readership, or literacy. The large trades and newspapers are rapidly cutting back on employees, and it's not simply a question of their audiences migrating to reading elsewhere. In many cases, their audiences are simply giving up reading in the long form, and satisfying themselves with blurbs of news and "culture" delivered through e-mail portals that they can click and follow to a news website or YouTube if desired.
The core misconception about publishing technology is that it provides a solution, when in reality publishing technology is a tool, and often a problematic tool at that. Publishers who think that a new technology is going to change the popularity of their books or their web content with their audience are fools. At best, chasing the latest standards and devices may give the earliest adopters some PR opportunities, as most publishing journalists are obsessed with technology because it provides the easiest fodder for a regular column. But the time and money those publishers invest in adopting the new technology only makes sense if it provides a profitable revenue stream.
Books may slowly give way to some form of ebooks, but it's not publishers who will shape or control this transition, it's the reading public. As a lifetime addicted reader, I don't have any doubts about the crowning glory of the printed book. It's the ability of a novel to lift the reader out of the surrounding environment, be it an armchair or a subway car, and into the world created by the author and the reader's joint imaginations. While some ebook devices may succeed in doing this, I don't believe that a dedicated ebook reader, such as the Kindle, has a long term future as a single function device. And as soon as you are receiving e-mail alerts or phone calls on your ebook reader, the basic function of the novel in creating an alternative universe is shattered.
Clearly, I don't control the future of Kindle and Sony reader, or the multi-function devices already used to deliver book content, like cellphones, MP3 players, laptops and desktop computers. But neither do the manufacturers or the publishers control the future of these devices, it's all up to consumer choice. My suspicion is that even devices like dedicated ebook readers for public school students which would seem no-brainers will be overtaken by the potential of technology to "add" to the book experience. Therefore, I believe that non-printed books will always suffer from dilution by addition, even though the market share of paper books may one day occupy the market share position that ebooks hold today.
The publishers who survive will be those who concentrate on producing the best possible content for their audiences. Those publishers who fail to identify their audience are wasting their time even thinking about delivery platforms. Once you identify your audience, if it turns out they are all Oprah watchers, by all means release a Kindle edition. But don't put your trust in technologies that promise profits down the road if and when the business model firms up. That only works for the Googles and the Amazons of the world. Any business can buy incremental unit sales at a negative profit margin, but it's simpler to stand on the corner handing out $20 bills until you go broke.