Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
June 5th, 2007

A Book Convention – Part Two: What’s Going On

As mentioned in the last column I have had the opportunity to attend several conventions this year.  In January I attended the Consumer Electronic Show and the NATPE television conference, both in Las Vegas and in February the Chicago Auto Show.  This past weekend I was in New York attending the BEA book publishing convention.  I have attended a number of NATPE conventions, having been in the television business, but the other three were new to me to attend as both a futurist and as a member of the press.  Inevitably I spent a bit of time thinking comparatively on all four conventions. 

The CES show is a reflection not only of what is going on in the world, but was also what will be going on.  Given the speed and high level of innovation that technology and particularly the technology that people use for communication, entertainment and work, this convention has become a directional sign post on the future of the world. The media covers this convention excessively, telling its readers and viewers what they will be seeing, buying and using in the months and years ahead. [The comparison of the press rooms of these four conventions was startling.  At any one time there were 50-75 people furiously typing on keyboards in the press rooms of the CES, NATPE and Auto Shows.  I never saw more than 4 or 5 people doing so in the small press room at the BEA].

The NATPE convention is widely covered as it points the direction to what will be seen on television in the year ahead.  This year the convention reflected the world of Internet 2.0 in that the discussions were not just about traditional television, but also about all the new screens that were available for programming.  The Internet and the mobile industry are transforming our media world and the convention reflected that, with a large number of seminars and discussions on how to change with the times and find ways to program for and collaborate with these new media screens.  It was truly a convention about an industry in significant transition.

The Chicago Auto Show, as most major auto shows, gives the consumer a glimpse of the cars they will see and might see in the coming years.  New models of existing car lines and concept cars attract great attention from the media and consumers.  As regular readers know, I had been granted an exclusive opportunity to speak directly with top GM executives about how they are changing their product line to be more ‘green’.  In fact, one of the major themes at the Auto Show was the significant efforts the industry was making to deliver more environmentally sound cars to the customers demanding them. This development reflects the tipping point crossed last year about Global Warming.  Practically every auto executive I spoke with had seen “An Inconvenient Truth” and mentioned the sales success of the Toyota Prius.

As a futurist I am always looking at forces, trends and patterns to better see the future and where humanity is going.  All three of these conventions gave me a lot to digest in this regard.  Technology is getting faster, simpler and will be giving us ever greater connectivity.  Television programming will be migrating across all the new screens and platforms in our lives.  Cars will increasingly be using less gasoline or none at all.  All of these are major trends that will make 2010 look substantially different that 2000.  These conventions reflect as Marvin Gaye crooned “What’s Going On” in the world. 

The Book Expo America convention was very different.  It did not reflect so much the rapidly changing world outside the convention as it represented traditional ways of doing business.  There were many books that addressed the changing world, but they were being hawked to potential buyers within the walled garden of established protocol.  The keynote presentation was by Alan Greenspan to promote his book “The Age of Turbulence” which will come out this fall. The name sounds like a good description of the recent past and near future.  It felt as though this turbulence was regarded as a subject to be discussed rather than the landscape the book publishing industry finds itself.

The other three conventions embrace new technology, speed to market, and innovation, all within the context of need to change in a competitive environment, or else.  The phone today is dramatically different that the phone of twenty years ago.  The way we watch television is dramatically different than even ten years ago.  Hybrid cars and electric cars didn’t exist ten years ago.  Today’s book is essentially the same product as it was decades ago, and it is consumed the same way, though by a declining number of people. 

I am a new comer to the publishing industry so I may not be current on all the innovation that has occurred in recent years.  The only major innovation I am aware of that has occurred in recent years, in the post digital media landscape, is the technology of print on demand.  This means that an author can pay a small fee, upload an edited and formatted electronic copy of her manuscript to say Booksurge, a part of Amazon, and within days the book will be on sale on-line.  Every time someone orders the book, a copy is immediately printed and shipped within the same day.  Technology creates immediacy and speed to market, something highly prized in most product categories and markets. 

The interesting thing about this is that this technology is available to any publishing entity, yet it takes months for a completed manuscript to come to a book store near you.  This is the traditional publishing process.  The books being showcased this past weekend will be available to you this fall.  That is fine.  Many industries operate on a long lead time sales rhythm that is primarily dictated by the retailer buyer.  However, since content now flows everywhere, and quickly, this slow process, which was appropriate in the analog world, might be putting the publishing industry at some risk. 

Television evening news eliminated the afternoon newspaper.  The Internet is punishing the current newspaper industry.  Blogs, with their immediacy and personal points of view are causing the magazine industry to rethink how it operates. Ask a band about the importance of MySpace.  And of course anyone of you reading this who listens to music on an iPod can comment on the declining number of CDs you have bought compared to a decade ago. 

What is ahead for the book industry?  What will it look like in the year 2025?  In the third, and I promise, last column about the BEA I will suggest possible scenarios. 



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