The Work

Going in Reverse

The sale of Frommer’s to Google got me thinking.

At Bowker, we’ve noticed several publishers who crank out POD titles that are compendia of Wikipedia articles. Yes, that’s right – these publishers crawl Wikipedia, and pull out articles that are related, and make books out of them.

Thousands of books. MILLIONS of books. All with ISBNs, denoting them as tradeable products in the book supply chain.

This strikes me as a strange phenomenon given the gradual migration of content from product to service.

In the book industry, we are so focused on the book as product. Yet, Google’s purchase (and its purchase of Zagat) tells us that, freed from the strictures of a bound product, content can actually be a service. Wikipedia is a service. Yelp is a service. Epicurious is a service.

The closer we get to disruption, the more we cling to established ways of doing things. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, as an industry, we’re churning out millions and millions of products comprised of content that is intended as a service. Soon we will begin publishing magazines made up of Epicur — oh, wait.

If your content is as good and valuable as you think it is, then think about it as a service people will pay for rather than a series of products that you print out and ship. Going in reverse only kills more trees.

4 thoughts on “Going in Reverse

  1. Good point Laura. I think even more is put blinders on to it has to be this frame or box it fits into. “Content is King”, everyone hears that but do many people understand what that means. With google buying Frommer’s they have a huge monetization opportunity on their hand and every app out there that pulls that type of data, will help google succeed if they are tapping into that stream of content.

    POD is becoming what digital was when it first arose, something you do on the side, but not the mainstream. If you need it in print, go get a few printed up instead of 5000 or 500, it’s as you need it. It also makes sense for specific areas, some digital only or digital as the main focus is what is best.

  2. “Product vs. Service”–I love this way of framing what publishers do and what content is. But, as I think about it, I’m not sure I agree it marks anything new, particularly. That is, a non-fiction book is largely a service. You could do the research that the author did, find the sources, steep oneself in that discipline, and acquire the same “product,” but who has the time or, maybe, the smarts to do that.

    The produce of content farms and Wikipedia crawler/aggregators–with ISBNs or no–just shines a light on the “Q-word.” What determines whether our time and (maybe) our money ought to be exchanged for X piece of content in the tsunami of shit, pardon, content abundance, that is washing over us?

    Your post also reminds me how many key terms in “our industry” have dramatically shifted meaning in the last 3 years alone: publisher, content, product , service. When language goes on holiday . . .

    1. I agree – when I started in publishing, service was what came around at 10:30 and 2:30 with a beverage cart.

      Quality is critical, absolutely – which is why I think Lonely Planet has not much to worry about – but with this “abundance” we have the concept of “good enough for now”. Which takes us pretty far, for good or ill.

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