Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Publishing is More than Books

The disruption of the publishing industry can be seen far beyond mere books. Trade publishing (general fiction and non-fiction books) are heavily impacted and get most of the attention, but think of all the other forms of publishing that have been hammered, some of them into near non-existence. Once you start looking, you see this impact everywhere:

  • There’s map and atlas publishers, which have been decimated by the GPS units in our cars and smartphones.
  • There are the phone books that we now throw straight into the recycling bin, replaced by Google and the like.
  • There are the video game guidebooks that have been replaced by forums, GameFAQs, and other online resources.
  • The comic book industry has seen triple digit growth in digital comics, and print has seen declines.
  • Newspapers and magazines are getting hit hard, replaced by online versions, blogs, even Facebook.
  • Travel guides are giving way to TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google.
  • I remember when Barnes & Noble had an entire section for computer books, with several aisles dedicated to thick works on every OS and programming language. These resources have moved online. It’s hard to find such books in bookstores anymore.
  • Dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias have been crushed by wikipedia and quick online searches.
  • Trade journals and academic journals are moving to digital.
  • As are sales catalogs. Including trade publishing catalogs, which have moved to a program called Edelweiss (and others).
  • There’s also the publication of materials for other entertainment mediums, like music CD and film DVD inserts, which have been replaced by digital album covers.
  • Fanzines are now fan blogs.
  • Poetry chapbooks and literary journals are going digital at major universities.
  • University textbooks are both going digital and being replaced by adaptive learning programs and online resources like the Kahn Academy.

What am I missing? This list is just off the top of my head. Some of these are minor, of course. Others are entire industries. The effect the internet is having on publishing cannot be fully appreciated, I don’t think. Publishing has long been about the transmission of language and knowledge. Digital does this better in so many ways. In fact, trade book publishing is somewhat protected by nostalgia and our fondness of books (it’s certainly true for me). While we wring our hands over the disruption in trade books, entire other swaths of the publishing industry are collapsing.

16 replies to “Publishing is More than Books”

This list can be expanded in every direction when you look at those other industries. Digital has brought us to a what you want, when you want it economy in so many areas. You can use an on demand service to watch your favorite shows, use a DVR to skip all of the ads, see something you want at Target and get it cheaper and shipped for free through a web retailer, listen to Pandora vs. radio. I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD. Do travel agents exist anymore? Haven’t use one of those in a while, either.

Two things digital hasn’t found a way to replace: the creators, and those they are creating for.

Until the machines awaken and do us in, I guess. Then it’s anyone’s bet what those things will be interested in. Probably something kinky. :)

I worked for TV Guide for 11 years. Remember when you had to have one on your coffee table or you’d have no idea what was on? Then I wised up and got a job with Rand McNally. (Both of these statements are true, alas.)

Remember cookbooks? Every Mom’s kitchen had a shelf full of ’em. Now we check which ingredients are in the fridge and google up recipes on the ipad. No idea what the numbers are, but this must have been a decent chunk of the publishing business that has just vaporized.

I am a self-published author (three times and working on a fourth), so I am not coming from an anti-self-publishing, anti-Amazon kindle position.

But we all have a problem.

Nothing electronic will last forever.

Our classics are preserved due to multiple printings.

How will the future classics be discovered much less preserved?

And what if the absolute worst happens and the internet is distorted by war or natural catastrophe. What then?

Civilization has an interest in promoting all things printed.

Print doesn’t last well either. Look at the Library at Alexandria. Or the scraps of scrolls we pore over.

Digital is far more robust. We can stamp digital into titanium plates. We can leave behind titanium primers for future sentiences so they can decode what we wrote. Paper is a horrible medium for truly longterm storage.

I thought print versions of computer books were going away too. And that may be the trend. I have to say, though, that Powell’s has a huge section of a satellite store devoted to computer books. Whole aisles full of programming books. http://www.powells.com/technicalbooks

Not to say that this information invalidates your point, as it applies to computer books. It might even help prove it. Powell’s, after all, is the kind of store where you can find books you can’t find anywhere else.

Here are a few I can think of off the top of my head:

Calendars, and date and appointment books. I used to write everything down in a physical appointment book. Now I use my online calendar. Date and appointment books were disrupted by things like Palm Pilots even before the advent of tablets and smartphones.

Repair manuals. I love this! Thank goodness you can find repair manuals for just about everything online now.

Kelley Blue Books

The disruption has hit almost everything that’s printed–printed checks, deposit slips, and banking related materials, greeting cards, business forms, party invitations, change of address forms…

I buy stock images all the time from a digital site. No one these days submits negatives and prints to an editor, over the counter or by post. Photography is not dead, it’s merely stored, transmitted and handled differently.

Hey there, I found your website by using The search engines when researching much the same subject, your internet site came upwards, it seems great. We have included with favourites features and functions|put into my bookmarking.

Comments are closed.