“Publishing is a $30 billion industry that relies on one of the oldest and most basic of human creations, the word. If people initially used words to express simple ideas and feelings, they eventually sought more complicated means of preserving extended thoughts, transmitting them to other people, both near and far, and creating structures, such as laws, plays, and sonnets, that were aided by the ability to record, arrange, and store words for later use. Publishing has been a focal point of this human effort to preserve and distribute.
But now one hears of the death of publishing, that computers and the Internet are rendering obsolete publishing and publishing houses. After all, one can write an article or a book and post it online. Or for a small fee, anyone with a computer can format a book and get it printed digitally without a publisher.
What is indisputable is that publishing is undergoing an electronic revolution, much of which has improved quality and made the industry more efficient. Computers and the Internet have affected publishing more than many other industries because its basic product, the word, despite being ancient, is highly adaptable to modern technology.
Three areas in particular have changed in publishing. First, the production process, from editing to typesetting, has been computerized, making it easier to perform certain tasks while greatly reducing costs. Second, publishing has begun to abandon paper for certain works, creating entirely electronic or web-based products. This is especially seen in newspapers and reference books, but novels and books in other genres are increasingly being produced in electronic format. Finally, computers and the Internet have allowed for a new â€œdistributedâ€ workforce. If in the 1990s most work in publishing was still handled in-house, now manuscript preparation is increasingly done by individuals in their own offices or homes, connected to a publisher by phone and e-mail. In our own company we have abandoned the traditional office completely, operating out of a virtual office of electronic workspaces and webcams.
As newspapers are now experiencing, or as encyclopedias found out in the 1990s, there are real changes for publishing in the Internet era, and there’s no going back. The Internet, organized by search engines like Google, is a much less costly and more efficient way to organize and distribute information. It is also likely that the planet will be better off with fewer trees cut, with fewer stacks of old newspapers, and with less pollution caused by paper production.
So is publishing on its way out? It’s unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future, as publishers have long served as more than a middleman between writers and readers. Here are four important functions that publishers have in the Internet era.
Selection. The Internet can provide unlimited access, and search engines can help people find information, but the Internet and search engines can’t determine what’s good and what’s accurate, despite user-generated comments. People will likely still rely on publishers to identify their needs and interests and to select and create works that best meet them.
Preparation. Publishers do more than choose articles and books. They work with authors in organizing, reorganizing, and otherwise improving their text. They also edit and proofread the material and professionally format it into pages, whether on paper or on the Internet. Self-published works are rarely of the same quality as books put out by publishers.
Marketing. Even books sold in electronic format need to find readers. Publishers are in the business of selling books and other materials, and they know their markets. Books sold by publishers far outsell books self-published.
Professionalism. Although writers might be enticed by the possibilities and freedom of self-publishing, they are well served by an industry that maintains standards and provides support and infrastructure for their works. Newspaper publishers enforce journalistic, including ethical, standards that give readers confidence in their text. Reference book publishers ensure accuracy and authority of their works. General trade publishers help identify consumer needs and find books to satisfy them, as well as nurture and support authors who write books of literary merit.”
About the Author
Thomas Riggs & Co Thomas Riggs and Co is a book developer based in Missoula Montana. Thomas Riggs and Company is working within emerging technology that is driving the future of the publishing industry.