Even rapid change is hard to see when you are in the middle of living it. Book publishing and book stores are an example; most retailers are going the way of Tower Records – only the used market will be left, aside from niche “pretty books”. Actually, this started with the porn industry – electronic media killed the market for pocket book porn, leaving only magazines. Right now the word publishing industry is shedding the infrastructure and costs of moving atoms; the only atoms involved are the tablets and cell phones – backed by stores that are servers, vast analysis of individual buying habits, and recommendation systems.
The single most brilliant innovation was Amazon’s enabling individuals to “scribble on the bookshelf” – making browsing their storefront a structurally more powerful and richer experience than perusing the physical shelves of a bookstore. No helpful clerk can approach the emergent collective in guidance.
In the next several posts I will explore some structural elements of the history of publishing, starting with the three elements of Gutenberg’s press – moveable type, oil based heavy metal inks, and large high quality display surface – the new technology of paper. A small N of innovations put together produced a new medium, which, in McLuhanistic terms proceeded to be a new medium by consuming the content of a small N of previous media – the letter, the story, and the broadside image.
A similar event is happening now, with this new thing we don’t quite have a good word for (it’s not just the internet); I’ll delve into this.