Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More on the Changing Media Landscape

As I continue to think more and more about the electronic dissemination of texts, something new occurs to me. I read recently, on a website that has since taken down the story, that Hachette Book Group has taken down their entire stock of ebooks as a result of a territorial dispute. The story was reported as a rumor, and I can't confirm it, but it does bring up an interesting scenario. Books are currently sold here in the US to domestic publishers and then to different publishers in foreign markets. In a world where someone in Austria could download a book from a Canadian publisher, what role would there be for the foreign markets for books?

Once again we are seeing how the digital revolution is rapidly changing the media landscape. That eventually a vast majority of publishing will be digital rather than print is a fact. What is less certain is when this change will take place. Up until the past year, most people would have said that the shift was a ways off. Yet with the supposed prolif
eration of the Kindle and iPhone, we are already seeing a rapid shift that is frankly shocking.

Writing in The Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn diagnoses the immediate issues facing the future of the New York Times, the one paper in the world one would expect to never go out of business. Some of his treatments mirror what I discussed last week, and none of it seems to be a good thing for consumers of news. Yet what is striking about this article is how Hirschorn's analogy comparing the media landscape to a collection of sand dunes shifting in the winds is so apt. As he asks, what happens when a hurricane wipes out the dunes altogether?

We may very well be at that point for newspapers, but the winds affecting the book publishers seem to be blowing a lot harder than most are giving them credit for. That I had not thought of the overseas book market is not the important thing; what is important is the industry's inability to keep up with the changing landscape and stay profitable. It is becoming all too clear that the change is coming much faster than we thought it was going to be. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, but I can't help but think that I may just like the landscape we have now a bit better than the one to come.

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