Community is King

Who remembers CDs? Who remembers CD sales? The publishing industry is nearly as scared of new technologies eroding its profits as the music industry was – once: since they did the wrong things too late their profits are down for good now and their business models are mainly of historical value.

These may be strong words…I spoke even stronger ones at my talk at the Publishers Forum 2010 organised by Berlin-based¬†Klopotek AG today. Though I couldn’t attend the entire event, it was clear that most of the talks and the buzz was dedicated to the e-book craze fueled by the success of Amazon’s Kindle (no link – not hard to find – it’s everywhere) and the iPad (equally easy to find…)

Since these two are very different, one should not compare them: the Kindle is indeed an e-book reader, yet another device for privileged consumption of intellectual goods. It is not the future of the book. The future of the book lies in communities of readers, who are also writers (not Tolstoys all of them) and the Kindle is, if anything, community-hostile. Not so the iPad: as a transportable Web-access device it is friendly towards social media, the most highly developed path towards online communities. The iPad is, of course, not just an e-book. Hopefully, it will provide access to smarter virtual books as suggested by David Gelernter in his recent article in the FAZ.

See, this was a large part of my talk in a nutshell. There’s more of course – my view that publishing will once again become a cottage industry. That publishing houses have to embrace this new reality and the new power of the communities of content creators. And so on – all wrapped in a nice historically motivated review of knowledge management as we knew it. Which is dead because now we have social media and KM is happening all around us – both inside and outside of companies, one more than one channel at a time. The slides of my talk are here in English or German. The text will appear in a special issue of buchreport after the conference.

Will my words come back to haunt me? I don’t think so. If the Kindle is the future of the book then a window frame is the future of the house.

On one hand I don’t envy the publishing industry, on the other hand I am optimistic that they will indeed learn from the bad decisions made by the music industry. If only because books aren’t songs.

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