How is publishing like the tech industry?

Yesterday, I listened to the Sofanauts podcast #30 while I was pulling out spent daises and mushed iris leaves and planting crocus and narcissus. The conversation is an hour and  half long argument where everybody is right.

The moderator was Tony C. Smith of Starship Sofa, guests lined up as Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Tolbert on one side (the soaked in internet technoratti) and Sheila Williams and Brian Bieniowski (from the venerable largely print Dell Magazine property Asimov’s Science Fiction).  The episode was birthed because Jeff and Jeremy declared the print magazines nearly dead, and Sheila, who’s magazine is doing-very-well-thank-you agreed to defend her printed child on the air.  Now, I won’t repeat the conversation since I’m hopeful readers will  go listen to the episode.  You’ll hear a lot of news about the industry presented in an interesting format, and both sides are often correct even when they disagree.

Now, I’ve been around the tech industry longer than I want to admit to, and today I’m the Chief Information Officer (chief computer and phone geek) for a medium-sized city.  So I have a little cred here.  The argument is essentially a microcosm of the larger one going on about the publishing industry.  It reminds me – tone and general content – of exactly the moments when technology giants came to crossroads and either died or re-birthed themselves.  Think of Asimov’s (or if you prefer, the whole New York print publishing industry) as the mainframe makers like IBM and Data General when the personal PC and small servers came along.  IBM – one of the best players in the field – nearly died then.  They didn’t, but they had to reinvent themselves.  The internet almost passed Microsoft by.  If Bill Gates wasn’t the kind of executive who stops and thinks about the long term from time to time, Microsoft might be a ghost today.  For Asimov’s – or for that matter Harper Collins – to survive, they will need to become flexible.  I’m seeing the risky experiments like as rays of hope as the industry tries to slide along the surface tension of the argument about the value of content coupled with the social move to social media, which requires a different marketing approach than the old-school publishing industry is accustomed to.

The survivors in publishing will be the nimble, smart ones.  In ten years, we’ll be working with a combination of newer companies (watch new imprints like Pyr and new magazines like Fantasy and Clarkesworld) that live in the internet soup today and the familiar names we grew up with who got real about getting flexible but didn’t give up their heritage completely either.  In other words, we’ll have the start-ups that survive (and most won’t, but they run on prayers, volunteers, shoestrings , and donation buttons and taken together these are not yet a business model) and the big publishers that survive (I’d suggest making skunkworks, staying up with technology and working to at least be a voice at the table as the terms of new media are decided, and cutting costs where possible.  Mostly, getting faster and more flexible).

The next five years are going to be an interesting ride.

Blog admission of the day:  I know most of these players.  I’m sometimes lucky enough for my stories to appear in Asimov’s and Jeremy does my academy website, which promotes my current printed book series.  But that just made the conversation that much more interesting.

Blog recommendation of the day:  While you’re over at Starship Sofa grabbing the Sofanauts podcast, drop by the sofa itself and get a few fiction podcasts.

Did you listen to the podcast, and what did you think?


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