Advertising is Not the Future of Reading February 11, 2010Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
Here I go again. I want to stay away from this discussion, yet I believe strongly in the concept of reading. This is one of the most provocative, yet deeply flawed, tomes on the future of publishing. I give Josh Quittner of Fortune loads of credit for trying. He calls it The Future of Reading. I hope not. I fear that I am a bit less positive than he about the future of the existing publishers than he is. Here’s why.
First, he clearly remains locked into the notion that advertising supports the business. That is precisely the thinking that has kept traditional publishing locked into its old business models. The thinking goes: We need pages, and we need ads to place on the pages. While advertising is likely to play a role in future media, it is definitely not the traditional “ad on a page” or “banner ad” type of role. Quittner is talking about the value of the iPad say it’s about ads that are in-your-face, taking up an entire page for a set period of time. I would tolerate that once. Maybe. And never come back.
Second, he believes that the tablet is the savior of the publishing model. Wrongo. For several reasons. The tablet may be a better reading experience than a laptop or netbook, but at best only marginally better. There is no game-changer here, at least not yet. Oh, and I always do multiple things when I read; the single-tasking operating system is useless to me, and I suspect most others.
Last, it is years late to save traditional publishing. Josh notes that publishers have been unwilling to look at new business models because the existing one has been so lucrative. Well, it’s not lucrative. It tends to throw off a lot of cash, yes. Management has done so by devaluing the product that they sell, content, and by not investing in the future. That’s not the same as being lucrative. This game is history.
I confess that I don’t know the answer for the next generation of publishing. I’m not smart enough, and I haven’t spent enough time thinking about it. But I do know that most of the half-hearted efforts being made today represent at best an extension of old thinking. Quittner says that publishing people aren’t stupid. I’ll agree with that, but nor do they have anything resembling an imagination.
At the same time, CNN Money also ran a related piece on what ten well-known people involved in publishing and/or the Web thought about the future of reading. The one I laughed out loud on was Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Washington Post, who had the audacity to claim that advertising was content. The most interesting came from Marc Andreessen. My take is similar to that of Jeff Jarvis. To at least some extent, they are all worth reading.