The fundamental quarrel for publishing and technology is the struggle between culture and commerce. This left brain/right brain dichotomy, says analyst Thad McIlroy, explains why the book business continues to fight an uphill battle in the Digital Revolutionary War.
In June, the US federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics counted up the slaughter on that battlefield, reporting grim job losses for the book business specifically, and the media business generally. The number of book industry jobs have fallen by a quarter since 2006 (down by nearly 25,000 positions), and by almost a third since the peak years in the 1990s.
Thad McIlroy sees the decline in publishing employment as primarily the consequence of business consolidation and workplace efficiency. The unintended consequence, he explains, throws up a roadblock to the digital transformation.
“So we’ve knocked between 25% and 33% of the staff out of these companies, and yet the overall sales are roughly the same. Profitability – it’s again kind of hanging in there. So what’s happened? I think our sympathy has to go out to our colleagues, because fewer people being asked to do an awful lot more work than they were before,” McIlroy notes. “And this then trends in to the point: You’ve got existing staff being asked not only to do more of the traditional work, but also manage the transformation from print to digital. We’re not seeing a lot of hiring.”
If publishing has any hope to survive, McIlroy says, then executives and editors will eventually find it inescapable that the new business environment requires new people.
Conveniently, the “new staff” may already be lurking on the payroll.
“I’ve been managing around technology for several decades and what you see again and again is that people self-identify. They are mostly younger, but not always, and how do they self-identify? You find out that they’re taking courses on their own. You’re walking by their cubicle, and you see they’ve got a book on their desk on ‘Introduction to programming’ or ‘New trends in social media’ or ‘What’s going on with Facebook.’ So you see them signaling to you that they’re taking the initiative, that they’re using their time to try and understand things that they see as the future of publishing. And from there you can start to move them forward.”
Thad McIlroy began his career in publishing as a bookseller, and over time, migrated to work as an electronic publishing analyst, consultant and author. He blogs at www.thefutureofpublishing.com and is widely-respected as an analyst of the Internet’s impact on the full spectrum of publishing sectors.