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Is Publishing Dead?

“It’s darkest just before sunrise”

There’s an old adage that says the night is blackest just before dawn. I’ve never tried to measure the veracity of that statement with a photographer’s light meter, but metaphorically speaking it makes for a memorable line. But, it’s not true. Frankly, it is darkest when it is darkest. That pretty much sums up some of the “expert” perspectives on publishing in general. Yes…things appear dark. Is it getting darker or will the sun come out soon and shine a new light on the world of paper and ink?

I’ve been in the publishing business sector long enough to know when a sea change is about to swamp the dinghy. Whether you are in consumer publishing or business-to-business (B2B) publishing, you are feeling the effects. Magazine distribution costs, time-to-market problems, re-mixed advertising budgets, competition from technology and reader time-shift habits all challenge the legacy publishing model. The incursion of new media consumption devices such as the iPad and Blackberry PowerBook have created a true tipping point…from which we may never recover.

I’m not suggesting that publishing is dead…it still has a heart beat. But, to survive and even prosper in this new world of digital publishing, we all have to drop the pretense that everything is going to be well after the worldwide economy rebounds. For the traditional publishing industry, it is not. Now is the time to get decidedly uncomfortable with the “old” ways and to familiarize yourself with a new way of doing business.

In the next several posts in the Media & Publishing category, I’ll dive a little deeper into the technology transition that is driving so much of this analog-to-digital transformation. Technology, if embraced and used wisely, can give publishers cycle-time advantages (time-to-market), engage media and information consumers in unique ways that we can’t replicate with ink and paper, provide remarkable cost efficiencies and enable less staff to do far more work than ever before. But, will advertising dollars deliver the kind of revenue we need to support this new production and distribution model?

In a follow-on post in Publishing, I also want to share my thoughts on what I believe is an essential ingredient in the long-term success of the print publishing industry: hyperlocal publishing. I also refer to this as a distributed publishing model. But, here I’m not referring to “community publishing” (aka…police reports, weddings, deaths and local high school sports) as some believe to be the correct hyperlocal model. The content efforts in that online context are woefully lacking in quality, depth and accuracy. I’m really focused on geo-targeted publishing emerging from a national publishing platform (both print and digital). I’ll explain in a future Sonoran Links post.

Next up: Has the iPad Re-energized Publishing?