Publishing Changes

The web is less than 20 years old, but I see some remarkable yet indirect changes in the other media which are occurring because of it. Newspapers, magazines, tv shows, publishing, and textbook publishing are all being affected.

About a year ago I noticed that the way the Toronto Star, numbered its sections had changed. I had grown up with the sections in most newspapers being alphabetical, which seemed natural in our print-based society. The change was to a system where the sections were labeled with the first letter of the section’s name. So the Sports section was “S”, the Living section was “L”, Ideas was “ID”, only the World section had the atypical label, “AA”. It looked to me like the web-created concept of tagging, where you label sites you bookmark with terms that indicate what makes them relevant for you, (an approach made workable by hypertext linking) had ousted the print-based alphabetical approach. The Toronto Star had a number of their journalists blogging by then, but to me that seemed like a less significant change. Writers write, and any medium will do. Labeling sections in a new way and expecting readers to ‘get’ it and seamlessly shift to it, was a subtler but more radical change, to my way of thinking.

When magazines started developing an online presence that seemed pretty sensible to me too. Nothing too radical, just information, text and visuals, also available online. There was a cultural and economic bump, though. The paper & print versions of magazines and newspapers charged money. Customers had to pay for their copies. The web culture is based on free access, a very different approach. There are some sites that demand payment, but the practice has largely shaken out to the current web business culture: something for free, and payment only for more advanced information or features. The money is made from advertising revenue.

I also watch TV news shows, and my two most watched, the CBC and the BBC, provide extensive online news, with the BBC even offering one minute world news available any time!

BBC Website
BBC Website

Book publishing, in my opinion, is going through the most radical change. The gatekeepers that made publishing difficult and limited which books were published are gone, along with the jobs (and skills) that used to be required. Typesetting is now done on the author’s computer, using software. Editing is also the author’s responsibility, whether done by the writer or hired out. The expense of a set number of books published in the hopes that they will all be sold is becoming a thing of the past, replaced by just-in-time printing. Self-publishing is now possible and growing.

Last year I tutored a 14 year old who wrote a very really good coming-of-age novel. Rather than seek out an agent and pitch the novel, we went to, worked through the set-up process, and ordered enough copies for her family. They are attractive books that make her, and her readers, proud. Another friend wrote a good, but atypical detective novel; he used Amazon self-publishing because his book would then be part of their catalogue. And I’m putting together a collection of family photos for a Christmas gift (for someone whom I hope doesn’t read this ;-> ) that I will self-publish.

What inspired me to write this blog post was a textbook publishing site I just stumbled upon, Flat World Knowledge Its study texts (read about their very different approaches) won’t be available till 2009, but it is a very interesting and web-culture concept.

So the web is bringing all kinds of changes to the media world, in fact, –

PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Analyst Marcel Fenez has told the World Association of Newspapers readership conference that traditional media has 5 years left until the death clock kicks in. –

So what are business and education doing to prepare for this evolving new media environment?

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