“Publishing companies are becoming obsolete”: Clarifying My Keynote Remarks

During my TED-style keynote at the NCCL conference last week I talked about the disruptive nature of technology — in particular how the low barriers to entry have helped to democratize access to new forms of communication. During the course of my talk I even went so far as to say that “publishing companies are becoming obsolete.”

This line generated more chatter on Twitter than anything else in my talk, with people debating the role of publishers and what exactly I meant:

While I wish I could claim some big insight or hidden meaning, I was actually being pretty blunt: with the advent of digital publishing platforms and the rapid adaption of ebook technologies traditional publishing companies are increasingly irrelevant. When any author can write up a text and publish it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s epublishing services, what need is there for a traditional publisher? Even marketing can be handled through blogs, YouTube trailers, and other new media outlets — indeed, high-profile bloggers are increasingly turning their online reputation into platforms for launching books.

Do I think that traditional publishers don’t have a role? Of course not — but that role will have to shift. Fortunately a number of Catholic publishers are experimenting with new media in exciting ways to connect readers with content of interest to them. Loyola Press’s DRE Connect site, Ave Maria Press’s professional webinars, and National Catholic Register’s blogs are three good examples of ways in which Catholic publishers are positioning themselves in this new media world.

The common thread is moving from distributing content to becoming a destination for readers to come and establish relationships. The more publishers can make this transition, the better positioned they will be to weather the digital revolution. Or, as my friend Barb said:

What do you think Catholic publishing companies should do in response to the digital revolution?

Photo by Muffet/ flickrCC