Some thoughts on two columns in the Opinion section of today’s Week In Review. Maureen Dowd and James Gleick examine different aspects of a trend that is having a rather dramatic impact on two sides of the print world.
Dowd, in a departure from her usual commentary on politics and culture, adds her voice to the discussion of the impact of digital media on her beloved print journalism. Interestingly, the focus of her concern is the outsourcing of journalists and the preparation of their work product. Her primary protagonist today is one James Macpherson, a pioneer in the business of “. . . “glocal” news — outsourcing Pasadena coverage to India at Pasadena Now, his daily online “newspaperless,” as he likes to call it.”
Driving his decision to outsource his production, i.e., writing news and features, to India
Everyone has to get ready for what’s inevitable — like King Canute and the tide coming in — and that’s really my message to the industry,” the editor and publisher said. “Many newspapers are dead men walking. They’re going to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, multiple Internet-centric kinds of things such as what I’m pioneering.
Macpherson has essentially turned the basic production of journalistic output into piece work “. . . just the way it was in the garment business . . .” So much for the elite status of journalists.
Asked about offshoring and publishing, Dean Singleton, chairman of the Associated Press, had this advice “. . . In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”
Gleick, on the other hand, looks at the book publishing industry and its most recent interaction with Google, that giant of digital everything. He focuses his concern on the decline of book publishing generally (Kindle, anyone?) and whether the recent settlement agreement between Google, authors and publishers to allow Google to “. . . allow the scanning and digitizing of something very much like All the World’s Books.”
Clearly, he views these changes to the book world as inevitable
For some kinds of books, the writing is on the wall. Encyclopedias are finished. All encyclopedias combined, including the redoubtable Britannica, have already been surpassed by the exercise in groupthink known as Wikipedia. Basic dictionaries no longer belong on paper; the greatest, the Oxford English Dictionary, has nimbly remade itself in cyberspace, where it has doubled in size and grown more timely and usable than ever. And those hefty objects called “telephone books”? As antiquated as typewriters. The book has had a long life as the world’s pre-eminent device for the storage and retrieval of knowledge, but that may be ending, where the physical object is concerned.
The agreement recognizes the reality of the situation. Google began scanning the many of the great libraries ~ Harvard, University of Michigan, etc. As you might imagine, the copyright owners sued in 2005 alleging copyright infringement arguing, among other things, that Google is barred from undertaking such action without the permission of the copyright owner. Google has scanned approximately seven million titles, some four to five million of which are no longer in print.
He does, however, see a positive outcome ~ those out of print titles now have a new life because they will be accessible in a digital form. A win – win, perhaps? The books survive (prosper?) even if they are no longer readily available as paper and ink.
Seems that we have been here before ~ in both instances. Developments that are disruptive fundamentally change the business model and its underlying assumptions. The struggle to stop the tide of change, per King Canute, is certainly possible in the short term, but practically impossible in the longer term. The real question, I suppose, is whether you lead it, resist it, miss it completely (see the disk drive manufacturers), or get run over by it (too many examples to list here).
Oh, as to the risk of being a visionary, Macpherson’s view is cautionary
I have essentially been five years ahead of the world for a long time, and that’s a horrible address at which to live because people look at you, you know, like you’re nuts.
What choice will you make?
Visionary ~ road kill ~ or something in between?