This week, a well known technology news site, GigaOM, launched their own digital press, GigaOM Books. GigaOM Books, in turn, is built upon Vook’s publishing platform, which provides an easy-to-use interface for authoring ebooks and distributing them into major online retailers. Also in the news, PressBooks, an authoring and ebook production system built on WordPress, announced that it was working with Columbia Business School Publishing and Harvard Business Review Press, among others, to provide direct-to-author publishing tools. These kind of announcements are becoming commonplace.
What we are witnessing for the first time is the widespread uptake of new, lightweight, internet-based authoring tools by both startup and existing publishers, enabling a reduction in time-to-market as well as the rapid generation of multimedia ebooks and apps. This shouldn’t be a surprise: ebooks are increasingly intertwined with web standards. Although the web is constantly evolving technically, we’ve had over 20 years to develop simple, easy-to-use authoring tools for web sites capable of supporting fairly complex interactivity. As a result, derivatives of those tools are now being adapted to support ebook publishing.
These tools would not be of much effect if we didn’t have companies that supported online media retailing. But beyond the mere selling of books, what is most notable about web-based media companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft is that they are not simply creating sophisticated recommendation engines and robust consumer marketplaces; rather, they are aggregating a vast array of web-based services into online super-nodes that encourage user participation and focus. Their opportunity is not restricted to content discovery and support for commercial transactions; it is enabling the kinds of things that the web makes possible: connecting people with each other, and to the things they care about.
That’s a hell of a long runway. It means that pretty much any web-based service benefiting these technology-driven, consumer-facing media portals is an opportunity for innovation. We’ve seen Amazon develop their own publishing imprints — and there’s nothing to prevent Amazon from acquiring, adopting, or building their own web-based authoring platform. Amazon’s author pages are heavily trafficked; why not take advantage of matchmaking services like BiblioCrunch’s, which unites publishing professionals with authors? And for that matter, given the visibility that Amazon gives authors publishing through KDP, why shouldn’t Amazon launch their own Kickstarter-like service to support new writing projects that authors could announce on their Amazon web pages?
I have no idea whether any of these specific initiatives are likely to be pursued by Amazon, and to some extent it doesn’t matter. The critical point is that the web flattens out the publishing industry, releasing essential functions like authoring support, editing, marketing, and retailing from traditional publishers, and turning them into services that can be integrated to provide a compelling customer experience. These services don’t need to be directly delivered by Amazon, Apple, or others: they just need to be compatible with their sites. I can sit in my garret and write a book in WordPress, knowing that I can push a button and get nearly immediate world-wide retailing through Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble.
Over the next couple of years, we will see more and more publishing activity taking place proximate to the reader and the author. That really wasn’t possible before; you needed publishers to stand outside of that interaction delivering the services that made it possible. Publishers helped to secure the resources that aided the author, negotiated contracts for revenue distribution, coached authors on their writing, edited the manuscripts, manufactured them for far-flung distribution, and conducted marketing. Today, each of those functions is an opportunity to create new value through the web. Russ Grandinetti, an Amazon executive, said in the New York Times: “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. … Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”
Publishers too often make the mistake that the heart of that story is about Amazon. It’s not: it’s about the web. This revolution has just barely begun.