Thoughtful piece by Timothy Egan about e-books and the threat of Amazon on the livelihood of publishers and independent book store owners, pointing out that despite the howls of “o me miserum” and fraught hand-wringing, “we have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.”
I’ve wondered before about those consumers who are less focused on bargain basement prices and who might want to know that a percentage of their money is going towards those actually producing the content (so I’m a writer, color me biased.) But the fear of innovation and transformation from those who wish things could just stay as they used to be is potent, dangerous and, ultimately, irrelevant. It’s useful to remind ourselves that markets shift, worlds change, whether we like it or not. Or, as Egan puts it:
Publishers need to reinvent their own future. They could offer packages. They could partner more with communities of interest, from environmentalists to religious conservatives. And, most important, they could start believing in tomorrow, instead of being afraid of it.
In The Future Of The Book Is The Stream, Megan Garber outlines about a new initiative from audiobooks.com to sell a monthly subscription service rather than sell books by the title. She writes:
“The service has the potential to reframe book-buying as a transactional thing, making it less about purchasing an object, and more about purchasing an experience.”
It’s an interesting proposition, and if taken to its logical conclusion, as Garber tracks here, could potentially revolutionize the book-selling business. But one thing she doesn’t get into: what this means for the content providers themselves. What does a monthly subscription service mean for the authors and writers trying to make a living through their craft? If we move to a world where we no longer pay for things because we actually want to read/watch/hear them and more because we have the ability to read/watch/hear them, what does this mean for the content that will become available to us?
In a world of shared value and collaborative consumption, it’s likely that our attitudes towards “owning” books will evolve rapidly. Yet while I now read digital books almost exclusively, there’s still something to be said for having permanent access to those digital files, lost if a subscription lapses. And, while the shift that subscription brings to content ownership might encourage people to read more widely and freely, I also wonder about the other implications on our resulting relationships with that content. Interesting to ponder.
[“Books About Books” image by jm3 on Flickr.]
End of the week treat… A charming homage to the wonder of the book. Enjoy!
[Video via Andrew Blau.]
Fortune writer, Adam Lashinsky has a new book on Apple coming up in a week or so, and reviews are beginning to appear. I’m looking forward to reading the book (I am already convinced it’ll be a million times better than Walter Isaacson’s disappointingly overblown biography of Steve Jobs), and I enjoyed Bob Sutton’s take on what struck him. Notably, Lashinsky’s close analysis of the organizational structure within the famed technology company, including its ability to keep teams small and focused. Sutton writes:
The tendency to make teams ever bigger is an awful disease, not so much because it costs more money, but because, as Harvard’s J.Richard Hackman has shown, it slows teams and undermines their performance as members end-up spending more time dealing with coordination issues and coalitional battles and less time doing the work at hand. Apple gets the importance of small teams at all levels (e.g., Adam reports that a 2 person team “wrote the code for converting Apple’s Safari browser for the iPad, a massive undertaking”). They also have an unusually small board of directors — seven members — for a company of that size.
Sutton then continues to explain why this is particularly significant:
This extension of the elegance philosophy beyond their products has huge advantages as the “signal to noise” ratio appears to be quite impressive at all levels and in all functions — people tend to get good information, the information they need (and no more), and aren’t confused or distracted by other things. At senior levels, this means they get the information they need and it means that, although there is discussion and debate at times, when a decision is made, there is less of the usual arguing or undermining. And if there are failures in implementing, you will be forgiven if senior executives believe you acted intelligently enough and hard enough, but you will be shown the door very quickly if they believe you were dumb or lazy.
Good review and a good-looking book. (If you’re pushed for time, do read Lashinsky’s earlier Fortune piece on a similar theme, How Apple Works: Inside The World’s Biggest Startup—another beautifully written and eye-opening look into reality in Cupertino.)
Disruptive innovation theorist Clay Christensen is back with a new book. This one, The Innovator’s DNA, attempts to get to grips with the question of who drives the innovation process. HBR is running the first chapter of the book, Five Discovery Skills That Distinguish Great Innovators, in which Christensen and his co-authors outline the five qualities that every innovator needs to possess. Namely, a penchant for:
Associating: “innovative thinkers connect fields, problems, or ideas that others find unrelated.”
Questioning: ”We found that innovators consistently demonstrate a high Q/A ratio, where questions (Q) not only outnumber answers (A) in a typical conversation, but are valued at least as highly as good answers.”
Observing: ”Innovators… carefully watch the world around them—including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies—and the observations help them gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things.”
Networking: ”Innovators… actively search for new ideas by talking to people who may offer a radically different view of things.”
Experimenting: ”Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas. Experimenters unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experientially, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way.”
Dieter Rams has long been acknowledged as an icon of the industrial design world. His products for Braun were beautiful for their simplicity and for his masterful creation of intuitive forms and interfaces. This video was filmed in 2009 as part of the campaign alongside his book, Less and More (Gestalten.) Now he’s back with another book, As Little Design As Possible (Phaidon), whose title reflects his long-held philosophy of design (and which includes a foreword by longtime fan, Apple design chief, Jonathan Ive.) Meanwhile, tony furniture store Vitsoe in New York City has an exhibition celebrating 50 years of his iconic 606 Universal Shelving System which runs through May 28th.
Quakebook is a “Twitter-sourced charity book about how the Japanese Earthquake at 2:46 on March 11, 2011 affected us all.” It’s a media project that is a product of its hyper-connected age as well as a snapshot of a particular moment, featuring as it does short essays written in the week after the initial shock had subsided but even as the longterm outlook in Japan remained far from clear.
The themes of the book’s 80-odd contributors—which includes citizens caught up in the chaos alongside higher profile contributors such as Yoko Ono and William Gibson—are timeless. The importance and love of family is noted time and again, as is anger at the mainstream media’s perceived preoccupation with potential apocalypse. Above all, many of the authors urge readers to use the tragedy wisely, as a timely reminder of the fleeting nature of life. Here are some of the phrases that stood out in the book (the price of which goes to the Japanese Red Cross):
I’ve lived for many years. Night has always turned to day and rain has never failed to cease.
Grandfather Hibiki, Sendai
To support Japan, what I would say is this: Simply do what you do every day, but do it better. Go to school or to work but with passion and energy. Engage your neighbors or community but with more sympathy and compassion than you ever have. Let these historic moments move you, inspire you and invigorate you for as long as the feeling lasts because, believe me, that initial adrenaline and humanitarian solidarity will wear off. Ride it as long as you can. Let it make you be a better person, and let it wake you up from the complacency in your life.
Tokyo Twilighter, Tokyo
I would like to urge everybody to be more actively involved in their local community in their everday life. Because nobody can survive without the support from others.
Yumiko Takemoto, Hitachinaka, Ibaraki
I had prepared, yes, but I wasn’t prepared.
Annamarie Sasagawa, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Somehow London and Tokyo are the capitals of my imagination, with Manhattan and Los Angeles like space stations between them. I have lived in none of these places. I doubt I will. Their function is other. Oneiric. Engines of dream.
William Gibson, Vancouver, B.C.