My favourite digital myths II
23.09.09 | DAVID ATTWOOLL
5. "To do anything in the e-market you need to be a techie/under 25/a futurologist/from Mars"
Arcane details of print technology are lost on most publishers, but that doesn't stop us setting print runs. A study by the Centre for Information Behaviour and Evaluation of Research (CIBER) found differences between the ‘digital native' young and older people in digital skills are small, and that many young people lack information literacy skills.
6. "We're all doomed"
It's not just the clinically depressed who worry about piracy: legal action against offending sites is ongoing. But industry standard software should protect content from all but a tiny proportion of hackers – which cannot be said for books.
Will everything become free online, as Chris Anderson argues in his new book (£18.99)? Business models then should include selling advertising online and promoting the sale of print copies. Anderson argues that ‘price falls to the marginal cost'; but actually the incremental cost of putting titles online is not nothing.
7. "We're all going to be unimaginably rich"
This is the flipside of 6. Manic over-optimism results in alarming symptoms including commitment to over-complicated digital asset management and e-commerce systems that are totally out of proportion to the resources, needs, and commercial opportunities of a small publishing company.
8. "E-books are cannibalising print sales – so we shouldn't do anything"
O'Reilly found no evidence of cannibalisation—yet. See also, for pirates, cannibals, and beautiful princesses. But at least in the US library market there's a danger of commanding the sea to retreat: a strong trend towards digital is strengthened by budget cutbacks—if a library can become more virtual it can open for shorter hours with fewer staff. It isn't rational to refuse to supply this market, and just leave it to your competitors.
9."People read the same way online – so we needn't change anything"
Research from CIBER has found that academics do not spend hours studying individual articles or chapters but enter a search term and ‘bounce' around looking for interesting content (Information World Review, November 2008). Similarly, consumers will expect to connect easily to associated content (and possibly to people with similar interests), and online content to be updated.
This has fundamental implications for the publisher's job and the way content is organised.
10. "You have to be big"
Because some big publishers have exclusive direct online platforms, aggregators and e-book vendors are all the keener to deal with independents.
The web presents wonderful opportunities for overthrowing the tyranny of big broadcasting muscle by targeting niche markets. It's also a natural environment for alliances and collaborations of all sorts.
Independent publishers digitise – you have nothing to lose but your mythological chains!