Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trains, Planes and Kindle

by C.L. Phillips

You have an historic front row seat to one of the biggest shake-outs in industry in the last hundred years.  Thousands of MBA students can tell you the death of the railroad industry happened when the railroad robber barons failed to understand the threat of new technology, namely the automobile and airplane.  Railroad barons thought they were in the railroad business.  Big mistake.  They were in the transportation business.  What all the Harvard MBA case studies forget to say is that the buggy whip makers laughed as they watched the railroad barons suffer at the hands of the upstarts.

Is the same thing happening in the publishing industry?  The big publishing houses are eerily similar to railroad barons.  Entrenched.  Mature.  Proven.  And like the railroad barons, they have no idea what the end game is.  In forty five years, aviation transportation progressed from the Wright Brothers first flight on the beaches at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to the Berlin Airlift, the largest humanitarian rescue effort at that time.  No railroad could save Berlin in 1948.

Forty-five years.  Sounds like a long time, doesn't it?  Consider this - the first IBM personal computer hit the streets in August, 1981, a mere twenty nine years ago.  What do you think your personal computer will do in 2026?  Better yet, what do you think the Kindle will do?

Amazon is executing a brilliant strategy.  Gillette gives away razors and sells razor blades.  There's no confusion about what a razor does or why you need one.  Amazon will follow the same strategy with the Kindle.  People will continue to read using the format they love most.  Just as some men prefer the straight razor, others the electric razor, and others the Gillette, we will find people reading hardback, paperback, and electronic books.

Planes, trains, and automobiles.  Straight razors, electric razors, Gillette razors.  Hardback, paperback, e-books.  They are all here to stay.  The real question is who are the buggy whip makers?  Who will be left completely behind as the industry transforms?

One thing is certain.  Stories will always be told.  Doesn't matter if we are scribbling on cave walls, drawing in the dirt around the fire, or pounding our keyboards in silent desperation.  The story will survive.  And so will the storyteller.
C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin.  Except in August.  C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do.  Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone?  Check out her web site:  www.clphillips.com
or find her onTwitter:  @clphillips787


J D Webb said...

Well said. They predicted radio would be dead when TV came around. I still listen. The electronic age is here whether it is liked or not. I've jumped onto that train.

Susan Schreyer said...

I'll echo JD's comment: Well said.
We ARE on the leading edge of a revolution in our industry. Exciting times! As storytellers, we will survive. It's to our benefit to embrace the vehicles for getting our work to our readers.

I'm looking forward to hearing more!

C.L. Phillips said...

Many articles I've read make it sound like the printed book will go the way of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I don't believe that.

Instead, I think we are going to see an evolution of storytelling, just as we have with multi-player role-based games (the fluid story), the comic book to graphic novel, and now, from written word to "enhanced digital experience".

I wonder how quickly we will see enhanced e-books, and in what genres?

Any thoughts on that?


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Nicely done, Cindy, and I agree with you on the story telling! We've only begun to spin our yarns! Now we have lots more venues!


Sylvia Dickey Smith

Carol L.Wright said...

Agreed. I suggest that publishers read one of the last decade's bestsellers, Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. It offers perspective on adapting to change in work and in life.
Ironically, it's not available as an e-book.

Joyce said...

Excellent post, CL!

I think this is an exciting time to be a part of this business.

Angela Parson Myers said...

I recently heard a speaker at a writers workshop say that books will survive because nothing else provides that heft, that scent, that tactile experience. But I don't think they realize that many young people will seldom, if ever, experience that. They will get all sentimental about the glow of the screen, the smell of plastic, how the buttons feel to their fingers. I agree that books will never completely go away, but they could get very scarce. Most of our recreational reading will be electronic; only precious books will be printed and collected.

Priscilla said...

Very interesting! Mind you, I won't fly but had one of the first Kindles because they saved me pounds of weight on the train. The e-book is here to stay. As for paper books, I do not see them going away anytime soon. As a writer, I don't care what format as long as people read!

Dr Dave said...

Our business is changing. One area that needs to change and if the big boys don't figure it out soon, they may be the next buggy whips. What is it? The unpaid returns from bookstore who over order. This hurts the publisher and the author and the bookstores get away with it. It's time the publishers got together and said NO MORE. What are the bookstores going to do-sell groceries? E-Publishing will have a big affect in this I'm sure bit the printed word needs some change.

Pat Batta said...

I was thinking earlier today that the last huge upheaval in how we get the written word was the invention of the printing press. It put a lot of scribes out of work, but it made great literature available and affordable to the masses. I was also thinking about the number of trees that will be saved if most people adapt to the electronic media. Change can truly be a good thing.

Helen Ginger said...

Even e-books are evolving. They now have embedded videos. There are predictions they'll eventually have mini movies that complement or expand the written words. They can have embedded links. Print books won't go totally away, probably not in my lifetime, anyway, but you can't stop e-books from eventually out numbering print books. The younger generations are growing up on computers and reading on a screen.

C.L. said...

Buggy whips? Interesting observation, Dr. Dave. Maybe we should start a movement - "Are you a buggy whip?"

One thing is certain, it won't be the agent. We are always going to need someone to be the dealmaker.


Anonymous said...

At least with a book you don't have to turn it off for take-off and landing!