Getting A Read On The Future Of Publishing

This article, by John Barber, originally appeared on Canada’s The Globe and Mail site on 3/17/11.

Crises spawn innovation, and despite regular headlines portending doom, the 21st-century publishing industry is bubbling with new ideas made possible by digital disruptions (and the odd hand-printing tool). Some will evaporate into thin air, while others change everything. But the level of activity today in Canada and the world strongly suggests that whatever the future brings, it will arrive in the capable hands of former book publishers. Herewith, seven trends to watch.


One of the country’s most ambitious digital publishing ventures began when the staff at Vancouver’s Douglas & McIntyre asked a simple question: Why is there no iTunes for text? The soon-to-be-launched Bookriff is the result. The service is “a technology platform that allows customers to repackage, repurpose and even resell content from existing copyrighted publishers, from the web or from their own content, and mash it all up together,” according to Bookriff CEO Rochelle Grayson. The result is a kind of textual mix tape. “But what’s really important is that we ensure the copyright owners all get paid for their piece of micro-content in that mix tape,” Ms. Grayson says.


While some lament as digital technology drives down both production costs and potential remuneration to “content providers,” others see new opportunities. Not long after creating PressBooks, which allows users to easily create their own books, Montreal digital innovator Hugh McGuire introduced Iambik, a site that commissions and sells low-priced audio versions of literary fiction from independent publishers, an innovation made possible by revenue-sharing agreements among authors, publishers and narrators. “There are many thousands of fabulous books that are not in audio, and we’d like to change that,” Mr. McGuire says. “We do that by having a different cost structure because of our distributed model.”


Everybody knows that what we call an e-book today will evolve into something quite different as text sheds its Gutenberg-era shackles, but nobody knows what that is or what to call it. Neither do the Goggles, the Vancouver duo of Mike Simons and Paul Shoebridge (creative directors at Adbusters magazine), whose recent hybridized whatzit, Welcome to Pine Point, is currently playing on It’s not a website, it’s not an interactive documentary and it’s not a “vook” (video-book hybrid), according to its creators. Instead, they have taken to calling the production, which explores memory through the story of a small mining town erased from the map, a “liquid book.” It’s a format that allows “exploration within the narrative,” according to Mr. Simons, “but channelled exploration.”

Read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail, and also see these related stories from the same site:
No e-books without authors, Atwood reminds us
Are mid-list authors an endangered species?
Time to Lead: The shaky state of Canadian book publishing

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