Continents famously drift. Tectonic plates floating over the Earth’s crust move slowly, then collide dramatically. In publishing over the last 20 years, such seismic activity has reshaped the landscape, creating new geographies for the book business.
From a bird’s-eye view, publishing industry analyst Rüdiger Wischenbart asserts, our new publishing planet has few major continents. It is largely an open sea dotted by islands and archipelagoes. Self-publishing, subscription, and streaming lie among these new lands and far beyond the reach of most traditional publishers.
Do books even matter in such exotic territories?
“There is a famous UNESCO-framed definition from the early 1960s saying a book is a publication for the public of more than 49 pages and two covers. It has a beginning and an end. 49 pages is more than just a short story. It’s a work. It’s not just a diary,” Wischenbart tells me.
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“Just wanting to be a little bit provocative, I asked my friends – tell me, why is an IKEA catalog or any other mail-order catalog not a book? We had a hard time coming up with definitions that would exclude that.
“At the same time, an audiobook, for instance, is not for reading. You cannot read an audiobook. And in the brain, it’s something completely different. Yet it’s a growing part of the book business from the traditional publishing companies,” Wischenbart continues.
“Just like in every other industry, digitization was not about e-books. Digitization was about the processes that linked the author’s manuscript with the reader and all that direct-to-consumer marketing, all the different production technologies. Suddenly, publishing companies had to handle different formats – print, digital, audiobooks. They had to fill their products into sales channels that were very, very, very different.”
Wischenbart wants your help to map the new uncharted territories of the book business. Contribute to his research here.