Community care

<p>In my small world of non-fiction books, there's quite a buzz about &quot;building communities&quot;. While not exactly new talk, the subject has taken on greater urgency, perhaps in reaction to inventory reductions by booksellers, often including elimination of whole categories of titles. Seen from that vantage point, and armed with the knowledge that an interested audience exists, pouring resources into building special interest affinity communities seems to make sense.</p>
<p>This is even more the case if your book publishing is part of a more vertical media business, with newspaper, magazines, shows, maybe an online presence, and access to the airwaves. I have two issues with this: (i) what are the objectives for these communities; i.e. to monetise them directly or simply to heighten awareness, as in any marketing initiative; and (ii) is there any reason to believe that people steeped in the disciplines and business approaches of long--established media can revolutionise their outlooks?</p>
<p>Economist Joseph Schumpeter identified &quot;creative destruction&quot; as the engine of radical innovation, applying it to a healthy development in capitalist societies that replaced entrenched businesses with a &quot;better&quot; offering for customers. It's a useful insight, and helps to explain why, for example, typewriter manufacturers did not come to dominate the manufacture of computer printers or national post offices failed to see the potential of courier services.</p>
<p>On the subject of the communities, themselves, I don't see the economic rationale. Many media operate in quasi-subsidised environments, meaning that the consumer does not pay the full economic cost of producing the product (or, at least, not at the point of delivery). For example, a newspaper is, broadly speaking, a collection of special-interest communities such as news, politics, sport, business, books and entertainment. Vast and costly resources are required to create the output, most of which is paid for by advertisers, not readers.</p>
<p>Is YouTube an indicator of the limitations of some of these communities? It's estimated that YouTube will generate $200m+ (&pound;100m+) in revenue this year. I have no idea what it costs to maintain, but it doesn't look like an encouraging model, and I've chosen it as an illustration specifically because it's so well known. What real hope is there for these other communities? Would our efforts not be better rewarded if we focused our collective brainpower on what books excel at doing, and translate our findings into new opportunities? And, by the way, my name is not Ned Ludd.</p>