The Future of Books … Publishing in a Digital World

March 20, 2014

Publishing is another being fundamentally disrupted. From booksellers to printers, the rise of the eBook has driven a huge fall in printed books. Yet at the same time there is more thirst for ideas and insights than ever. The problem, as ever, is that existing businesses like to hang onto their old ways, their existing revenue streams, what is easy for them. No change.

Canon is the world’s leading printer manufacturer. For printers, it’s multi-million dollar machines look more like spaceships. At their global hub in Poing near Munich, technicians walk around in white coats, as the sci-fi machines hum gently. Digital printing is still physical but transforms the economics of publishing. Small batches, print on demand, print on location, easy to update, customized to individuals, multi formats, instant translation, auto-restocking retailers. Yet most publishers just do a one-off print run of 10000 copies, standard, inert, stuck in a warehouse, and going out of date. Wake up!

Of course, this doesn’t address the challenge of ebooks. The real opportunity beyond printing is to create hybrid customer experiences. Books that capture core concepts, intelligent words, with inspired images and practical roadmaps, then linked to sister websites or smartphone apps with diagnostics, videos, and digital toolkits. They are living publications, for example, linking to realtime case studies, or authors on demand. They build communities of practitioners, not just readers. And they become brands not of books but of ideas with action.

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