A few thoughts come to me, perhaps all of which are redundant with what Joel is saying. Consider this public print processing (and then say that three times fast).
- The advice to provide content reminds me of the urge to increase interest in church by providing entertainment. The Church is never going to be more entertaining than my Nintendo Wii (except when it has bricked as it has this week, but you see my point). You can try to get people intrigued or interested, but they have to want something that church actually provides as church. Anything that gets in the way of the church doing what it does as church isn’t helping church survive or grow; it is morphing it into something else that people (allegedly at least) want.
- Books compete against many things. They compete against movie tickets, dvds, coffee, and beer. Proposing that publishers also distribute for microbreweries is not helpful advice for publishers. Stock holders diversify. People with a vocation do what they think they are called to do. If they need to switch to another line of work because of market realities, then they need to admit that they can no longer work in the publishing industry.
- Publishers cannot do much to control how much of the population is literate. There is no point in agonizing. Either there are enough readers to support a healthy publishing industry or there are not. If people prefer gadgets to reading, so be it. Don’t confuse a decision to get out of publishing and sell programs with gadgets with innovation in publishing.
- People who bring a new product to market are sometimes amazing entrepreneurs. We hear about those people. We don’t hear about the many more whose innovation was a failure in the marketplace. It may be true that someone is going to come up with an audio-visual content on a device that will attract readers from books in great numbers. But that person is taking an immense risk. Personally, I would stick with books. Maybe I’m just not courageous enough. Whatever the case, taking a fantastic risk in the marketplace should not be mistaken for the claim that there is a great wave of change sweeping through the industry that demands that everyone adapt to, or die.
- I seem to remember a decade or two ago that cd-roms were going to be the most amazing thing ever in educational content. Did it happen? There are a few products that people buy, but it hardly transformed the world. I can’t help but wonder if the recent things that Joel heard are simply another version of the cd-rom hype–this time applied to small computing devices, perhaps.
- And to repeat a point I’ve made before, there is no comparison between music and books not only for the reason Joel mentions, but because music has always required a player. Unlike recorded music, books have been around before the twentieth century. It is not as obvious that they will be surpassed.
- Personally, I think book publishing took its big hits with the invention of the radio, motion picture, and television. I don’t think the recent stuff is that big a deal. We’re past the real hurdles already.