For the record I'm on many blogs, threads and various news chains. One of them a few days ago asked a typical but still important question. Where will ebooks be in five years? That, of course, started me pondering several things about the magazine media business. Where were we five years ago and where are we now? And is that perspective an accurate forecaster for the next five years or ten for that matter?
In five years - Ok, shoot me if it is ten - most successful publishing businesses and technologies will morph almost beyond recognition from our traditional heritages with the exception of the one technology that won't be changing any time soon, and that is that words have to be read on one substrate or another.
Let me start with this: in five years, or yes perhaps ten, the media universe will have continued its trajectory away from organic substrates. I ask all the other pundits claiming an affection for print: what will stop the current trends? Nothing really. But I agree with these same pundits that print will always have a special place for some of those who are willing to pay for it. Those printed products that do remain in five or ten years, will be very profitable. Those special interest niche magazines and digitally printed focused publications will have great longevity. As I have said many times, the print survivors will be considered as a luxury item and not an inexpensive commodity product.
While I'm at it, let's take a look at some of my other prognostications. I think the next big event - a game changer as I see it - will be full color reflective substrates, not light-emitting platforms. They'll be similar in function to the Kindle, but better and more sophisticated. The experience will be more or less like reading on paper where the more light, the better, and even direct sunlight is fine. Reflective substrates come with the bonus of greatly reduced need for continuous power, which equates to superior battery longevity.
Then 5th generation mobile networks, or 5G, will be on-line in 5 years or less. 5G allows for a higher density of mobile broadband users and supporting device-to-device, ultra-reliable and massive machine communications. 5G also will require lower battery consumption and better implementation for the coming of the Internet of Things. (IOT)
Speaking of technology, the actual not-yet-here future will have unanticipated new technologies making exact forecasts unknowable. But I am damn close, of that I am sure, he says humbly.
Other future unknowables are the ever evolving business models. Beyond the actual writing of a book or a magazine there is the business of manufacturing and distribution. This is changing sometimes as rapidly as the technology. Amazon is just one example of a newish and explosive business model. Do you think Amazon, Google or Facebook are the last great innovators to contend with? Not a chance.
In the case of the business of ebooks, the price has been altered and adjusted beyond where it should be in the natural course of where businesses naturally lie. This is a methodical, some might say conspiratorial, business decision and affects all other 'book' decisions. Can that artificial market condition hold its power over common sense for the next five or ten years? I say no.
And there is sort of parallel artificial pricing index with some magazines, too. I am of course referring to rate base. I think rate base years ago helped destroy our ability to appreciate our true and core business. That business isn't/wasn't to appeal to finicky advertisers but rather to the paying reader. The reader should have been carrying the load a long time ago. Our business lives would have a more stable foundation had that been the case. Rate base is a terrible but somewhat curable disease. But like any cancer it is best treated when caught early.
We could have stopped this before, but too many of us didn't. It was a profitable gravy train and now we are backpedaling trying to reach and retrain the reader. DUH! The formula should have always been that quality content is worth paying for, and that is what most quality readers do today. Let's get rid of the fluff circulation and deliver what is worth charging for. Smaller selective audiences have always been lucrative and worth having.
A closing thought on this multi-topic rambling rant: Printed books have always been perceived as a luxury product, which gives them much longer staying power then printed magazines or newspapers.
Not to get political but there is still a strong "base" for printed books. However, I am confident that over time that base will dwindle, too. Not completely evaporate but diminish. The public will still read print, but not in the quantities they do today on paper, which is greatly diminished from just five years ago. Clearly the predominant way people will read today, and even more so in the future, will be on a digital platform.