Publishing as the monks? In an internet world?

I could seem like Publishers have the same faith as the monks of the Catholic Church had in 1439 when the Print press came around and put the monks out of the labor of copying the Bible; they never thought it possible to replace the handwritten Holy book.

But a week ago one of the major Norwegian Publishing houses Gyldendal published posting at their blog an argumentation that reassemble the attitude of the old  monks and I simply cannot understand that it’s possible.

The blog posting is HERE (in Norwegian. The ingress states: “What’s the cost of publishing an e book?” Further readings on the subject be found at Eirik Newths blog (remember google translator can be used if not able to read Norwegian)

Why is it I have spent a full week thinking, before commenting on this? Simply because it’s difficult to believe the argumentation behind the figures presented. I’ve been speechless for a week on this subject. Now I’m able to speak again, – somewhat.

Gyldendal as a Norwegian Publishing house is not alone in this. This is NOT an attack on one singular Publisher, not in Norway, nor elsewhere. My comments aren’t even limited to Publishing houses providing books to the market. My comments are related to the whole of the industry of media productions including the press, publishing, music, broadcasting and so forth. There’s something happening within the media organizations, which are troublesome. –  It might be fear.

In short, the argumentation in the blog posting from Gyldendal shows how the industry has, for long,  wanted reality to be. Publishing houses are in problems, and still – in Norway – they doesn’t want to publish e books in Norwegian language ?!?  It all started approximately 10 years ago (The Internet was not something that would go away easily )and has evolved in several steps: (seen from a  publishing house perspective)

1) “No-  the decreasing revenues have no structural reasons – it will pass.”  (denial)
2) “There is a shift in media consumption, and we don’t fully understand it.” (still denial)
3) “Something is happening, nobody knows what it is.” (confusion)
4) “Internet is to blame, and we were stupid to give away content for free.”  (anger)
5) “Governments has to protect us” (grief)
6)” We have to get paid for the expenses we have.” (start of acceptance)

Anyone present able to see the flaw in this thinking? At the same time period Internet have evolved:

1) Internet is used for the web to present content, mostly for free
2) Advertisement is established as a revenue stream
3) Retail starts offering products via the Internet
4) Banking and travel businesses goes digital
5) The public sector goes digital and start offering digital self service solutions
6) Internet starts getting semantic, and long ago the knowledge of business on the Internet is established by understanding that the main value is knowledge about the users and how to syndicated services and offers towards them.

Anyone now getting the picture of how far off the media industry has been?

Fortunately the large picture isn’t as bad as it seems. Today I read the Schibsted ( one of the major players in the media industry in Norway have done a clever move. They have established a company that’s going to invest in start ups, to develop and grow great ideas for content and storytelling in a digital future. Look HERE , (and use google translator if you don’t’ know the minority language Norwegian) Most media houses have employed digital expertise, and established digital departments within their organizations. This is great steps in the right direction. Still it’s unclear what direction this is. That’s still a problem! If you do not know where you are heading – it’s not easy to get there. Schibsteds action seems clever, because it lets development happen outside of the traditional media organization (remember the comment I made in the start of this posting about the Catholic monks?) I believe that the people working in a organization with a 250 year history of backing and defining what they are, and what a “Public audience is” most likely aren’t able – as an organization- to do the actions needed to survive – not alone!  An important speech by Jay Rosen (Inaugural Lecture at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris sept 2010) explains some very important aspects of the rise and fall of the “audience” as we have known it.

Back to Gyldendals published figures of the cost of a print book and an e book. They may add up, but they have no relevance. The figures represent a need /wish to maintain the “old model”, to ensure the people continuing doing what they always did, to ensure that the publishers (heavily invested in book stores) get their investments back. And none of this has anything to do with the market, (the people/ audience) –  now able to decide not to join the ideas of what a piece of literature should cost.

The market offer books, e books, told stories in other manners than what a “Publisher” wants. (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple – and the Norwegian bookstore Haugen bok are more than ready to grasp the market, excluding the publishing houses – but without any other motifs than profit) By that, the publishers have forgotten what Gutenberg had to offer: A cheaper, more democratic, simpler way to add value for everyone able to read. The added value was Knowledge, without dependency. – This used to be the pride of media houses, content producers of any kind. It looks like someone forgot this, and it seems like the conservative and protecting mode may very well scare away some of the most valuable assets the media industry have to offer to the population of the world – protection of the democracy on the altar of their misunderstood job security.


6 Responses to “Publishing as the monks? In an internet world?”

  1. […] Publishing as the monks? In an internet world? « Geir Stene's Weblog […]

  2. This is a great post. One which is unfortunately all too true. As a literary agent at the L. Perkins Agency, and colleague of the great Ms. Perkins, founder and co-owner of the Ravenous Romance e-publishing company, I have to agree wholeheartedly and add that we saw this change coming from afar. It is absolutely true that the industry is in the midst of a great change. The electronic evolution has gifted us with a medium which grants us not only faster and cheaper books, but so many beneficial and exiting changes that are too numerous to detail in this brief comment. This is a topic that I should tackle in my own blog, Thoughts From a Literary Agent in the near future. In short I’d like to say that you are correct and your analogy to the monks and the holy book is right on point. The change is happening now, and only those with the foresight and adaptability to embrace it will keep their foot hold and succeed.

  3. This change in the industry is wonderful for those of us that don’t have famous last names, haven’t had an affair with a politician or had 8 babies at one time.
    With today’s technology we can publish our books as an e-book, or truly self publish a book. The joy of holding your first book in your hands is truly remarkable. The wonderment and awe of hearing that so many people read it and they tell you how much they loved it and the characters and ask when the next book is coming out, is akin to the joy of people telling you how wonderful your children are.
    Thanks to the internet, people across the world can find enjoyment from reading your books. And it doesn’t take long for a big publisher to look you up. : ) I started out self published and now my books are sold in bookstores around the world. That’s a miracle to me.

  4. Geir Stene Says:

    Thanks for sharing, and for the comment on self publishing. This is just one of the directions the Internet has opened up for us all. All the amazing things that’s going on will – in some years from now it will be the most natural thing in the world. it’s just now, when the changes are new, that some fear for their future. This change is nothing to fear, we will end up with more, and ALSO with better literature, press, entertainment than ever before as a result. That is what I believe will happen.

  5. So many people are afraid of change. One of the key things I have taught my kids is to be flexible because Change is Inevitable.

    By the way, my husband’s grandparents are from Norway. It is good to hear from you, Yah? I loved to listen to them talk.

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