« Discussion

What is the Key Problem for Publishing to Solve by 2020?

Publishing will look very different in ten years time, but there are problems we can anticipate — and solve — in advance.

By Edward Nawotka


Today’s feature story discusses how the Book Industry Study Group works to improve the professional lives of those in the publishing industry and establish a set of standards and best practices. This Thursday, BISG is hosting the latest in its series of NEXT conferences. Entitled “Developing the 2020 Publishing Program,” it focuses on innovation and the issues that publishers are going to confront over the next ten years, such as coming up with a mobile strategy and how to get closer to customers.

So, now is your turn to play “futurist.” Tell us, what do you think is the key problem for publishing to solve by 2020? Is it how to avoid being subsumed by Internet companies who merely want to turn publishers into “content farms,” like those sci-fi movies where computers raise humans to use them as living batteries? Is it becoming even more relevant to the mass market by promoting reading as a more attractive pass-time than playing video games or surfing Web video? Is it trying to stay ahead of the curve on technology and device development so writers and editors can devise stories and formats for the new ways in which people will read?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

This entry was posted in Discussion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted March 28, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    2020? Sounds like a science fiction year! The over-reaching issue is the relevance of publishers and agents. What value will they add? The author, the creator of the content will be in much more control. The accounts (especially Amaon & Apple) will dominate.

    What are the new competencies needed to run a publishing house?
    What is the role of the agent?

    I’m sure there will be more self-published. But I also believe many will need support.

    I see a future filled with freelancers and virtual companies set up to deal with specific projects. This community will be connected via the Internet. People will be more their own company serving a specific focus.

    The big publishing conglomerate is going away. Their overhead is too much and their value-added is lessening.

    It’s chaos.
    It’s disruptive.
    It’s fun.
    It’s going to result in a lot more to read.

  2. Posted March 28, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Each publishing sector will face unique challenges. For university presses, if not for all scholarly publishing, I think the pressure to adopt open access will become irresistible, and the trick will be to find and sustain sources of funding more reliable than the market has turned out to be in past decades. The mission of scholarly publishes being to disseminate knowledge as widely as possible, OA makes the most sense in terms of fulfilling the primary goal of this kind of publishing.

  3. Suze
    Posted March 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    That’s assuming we don’t bore people to death by 2020. Love what’s being published in the fiction market, but on the nonfiction side, the immediate threat is TIMIDITY. I read PW and LJ every week, and see safe title after safe title in the nonfiction offerings. How many Lincoln and MLK bios can one country absorb??

    Other big risk is what’s happening now — getting swept up in the hype of new/social media. Trying to turn books into screens (a media made for video) and wanting writers to become celebs on a social media/TV scale — tweeting, twittering, blogging, having platforms and followers. Is this really where we want to go? Do you really think people who spend a lot of time reading tweets are huge book buyers? Or that that cultivating writers eager to spend as much time hyping themselves as actually working is going to result in a better product? I’d say the jury’s still out on that one.

    There will always be certain kinds of books ideal for this — celebutard bios, beach books, instructional books you can prop up in front of you. But a good share of those books aren’t aimed at inveterate book buyers, and will always be in competition with media the screen was designed for — movies, You-Tube and other video on demand. I have three or four books on Photoshop, but almost every I really learned to do on it was from You-Tube demos — it’s just superior for that kind of thing.

    The same kind of hyperventilating we’re currently seeing about e-books has gone on before. Remember when all books were going to become interactive CDs? How big of a fiasco was that.

    Apparently, the real challenge is going to be believing in our own product as a marketable and desirable thing. What does it say that Oprah did more to promote books than the than all the CEOs, sales forces, and marketing teams in publishing combined. We should be finding ways to create a future generations of book lovers and making our product less expensive (much more trade paper, much less hardcover), and capitalizing about what is unique and wonderful about books, instead of hollowing out our product and going all-in on a media that’s about as unsuited to reading as you can get. Use new media as a sales outlet and adjunct format for some books, rather than trying to cram books into a media unsuited to reading and readers.

  • Get Publishing Perspectives in your inbox each day and stay up-to-date on international publishing.