Threats, Challenges and Opportunities: The Industry Measure

October 10, 2006

Last week, The Industry Measure, an American trendwatcher, released part one of its report series The Multichannel Mix: The Role of Print, Web, Wireless, and Other Platforms in Today’s New Media Environment, focussed on publishing (Available online here, summarised here).

The report, which I can’t possibly afford, does note that “in Summer 2006, 26% of all publishers cited “competition from online/Internet formats” as a business challenge, the highest this challenge has been in a decade.” There’s a slight wording change there from publishers’ usual characterisation of such competition as a ‘threat’ rather than a ‘challenge’, but it’s still pretty obvious how publishers feel about the approaching changes in the industry. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to ignore the remaining 74% who don’t feel it’s a challenge, who anyway, unless they have some excellent plans already in place, are likely to go under fairly soon.

The ‘threat’ of digital formats has been at a low hum at publishing conferences for a while now, and you have to wonder what it felt like at music industry dos when ‘the whole mp3 thing’ started to sink in. Of course, the radical difference between then and now is that while mp3 snuck up and bit the music industry on the arse, publishers have been sitting on a number of perfectly good formats for eBooks for some time – and you can’t say they haven’t been warned. When CDs turned up, music publishers of vinyl and casette didn’t break down and cry – they just went and bought CD burners. Likewise, after a lot of initial panic, lawsuits and dire warnings, the music industry is still in full fig post-Napster, Limewire, Bittorrent and the iTunes Music Store. In fact, there’s plenty of data to suggest digital distribution has re-invigorated an industry that was in thrall to radio and TV airplay – much as today’s publishing industry still relies on a small number of influential critics and journals to get the word out about their product.

What this means, of course, is that publishing is going to do just fine in the digital future. But it really needs to put more time into ebooks and related formats, explore new distribution channels, and start considering some of those little challenges as whopping great opportunities.

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