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The future of publishing is micro

Posting in Design

Technology taketh away and technology giveth. The rise of digital media has killed the business models of newspaper and book publishers and booksellers. But it is also providing new venues for authors and smaller publishers who would have never had a chance in the old order.

Micropublishing, for one, is providing a low barrier to entry for many new types of publications and works. But the disruption in publishing doesn't stop there. As described by Pandodaily's Hamish MacKenzie, micropublishing is a lightweight approach that doesn't require a lot of technology, or even resource-intensive add-ons such as pictures or graphics:

"Publications can be distributed on the open Web or via apps. In 2013, as reading habits shift to memory-lite and cloud-enabled mobile devices such as iPads and large-screen smartphones, this approach to publishing will become more prevalent and important.  Also according to the tenets of micropublishing, digital magazine issues or books can be short and produced using free or very cheap software, so publishers don’t need to invest as much in design, distribution, or marketing, freeing up budgets for editorial. For the same reasons, micropublishing is also a movement that is friendly to self-publishing."

Micropublishing doesn't have to be all-digital, either -- it can incorporate the best efficiencies of digital and print. The New York Times' David Streitfeld documents the example of micropublisher James Morrison, who employs the Lulu self-publishing platform in conjunction with Amazon to sell very small quantities of rare or out-of-print books. The new model, which combines online and print resources, works well for very small runs of even just one copy of a book:

"In the old days, life for small publishers was a hassle. The economics were such that copies got dramatically cheaper when printed in bulk, but then the books had to be stored, which was expensive. Finding an audience was the hardest part; some independent presses took years or even decades to sell out a modest print run. Now books can be efficiently printed in small quantities, like one copy. Amazon, meanwhile, is happy to do the job of fulfilling orders. The stage is set to allow everyone to become his own Alfred Knopf."

MacKenzie points to other trends shaping the publishing world. Along with micropublishing, he points to an emergence of an online subscription model that is finally beginning to take root, fueled in large part by the proliferation of mobile devices:

"As content becomes atomized, pried away from homepages and spread across the Web by Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Reddit, it makes sense for readers to have subscription-based content as their media 'base,' just as many of us already subscribe to streaming media services such as Netflix, Spotify, Rdio, Hulu, and Amazon Prime for a steady diet of movies, TV shows, and music. Again thanks to the rise of mobile devices as reading devices, you can expect more publishers to integrate a subscription element into their offerings in the year ahead (and hey! Andrew Sullivan just did it)."

Similarly, another emerging trend is micropayments -- in which publishers or authors receive compensation on a post-by-post basis.

Expect to see more longform writing as well, with in-depth coverage and analysis, versus the shorter spurts that have defined Internet content for years. Publishers, MacKenzie reports, "are getting excited about producing the sort of reporting that the likes of the New Yorker and The Atlantic have excelled at for decades. This new crop of digital publishers realize that people are more willing to read longer stories on their tablets and smartphones."

(Here at SmartPlanet, we're increasingly adding more in-depth, longform pieces to our pallet -- see editor Andrew Nusca's latest post on how our site is evolving.)

(Thumbnail photo: Joe McKendrick.)

— By on January 4, 2013, 2:15 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure