From Pete’s Desk is a blog series by Peter Hudson, co-founder and CEO at BitLit.
I was at a meeting yesterday with Margaret from the Association of Book Publishers of BC. We were talking about how publishers in BC and across Canada are adapting to the rapid pace of change in the book publishing world. As we were talking I remembered something from the Pragmatic Marketing course I’d taken in San Francisco a few years ago: “What would you do if Google got into your business?” In the case of books, Google is in. So is Amazon and Apple. It’s no wonder that publishers are feeling a bit like the earth is shifting under their feet.
I’ve spent my entire life immersed in information technologies. I bought my first computer when I was 11 and I spent the better part of my teenage years trying to over clock Intel CPUs using graphite from a mechanical pencil. Sometimes I forget that people not much older than me had desk jobs where the desks weren’t just a convenient place to put your computer.
But I think it’s more than just adding computer technology to an industry that causes the upheaval that’s being felt in publishing. There is something wonderful about the way that software people think about the world. I once heard a software product manager say that “software is easy, it’s just typing”. And it’s true… software is just typing. If you think of it, it can be done in software. That’s a powerfully different mindset to be suddenly inflicted on a traditional industry. Just ask General Motors or Lockheed Martin about how Elon Musk made them change their businesses with what he did after PayPal.
So, how does all of this apply to eBooks? Aren’t eBooks a results of the software company mentality (read: Amazon, Google, and Apple) getting into the publishing business? Yes and No. Yes in the sense that there have been some new disruptive ideas introduced (e.g. agency pricing). But, no in the sense that people still like to read books. Adding flashing whiz bang multi-media interactivity to the eBook of “The Great Gatsby” wouldn’t make it any better, let alone make it ten times better (which is what something needs to be to truly be a “disruptive technology”). The internet isn’t going to change what makes a great book great any more than MP3s changed what made a great song great. But the internet certainly is changing everything we know about how books are discovered, marketed, and sold.