Publishers must rethink their approach to technology

A brief post on why the publishing industry won't get anywhere with technology unless it addresses its own lack of knowledge in the field.


Yes, that's a pretty obvious tagline. You don't get anywhere without putting the work in. But that's publishing's problem. The industry seems to think that talking about heavily technical topics means it actually understands them.

You see the same problem in so many industries. Someone mentions 'Big Data' and suddenly everyone is an expert in Big Data. Big Data will save publishing. We all need Big Data.

Today, it's 'Blockchains'. That's literally what triggered this post. Blockchains will save publishing. We all need Blockchains.

It doesn't work that way

With any new technology, process, or strategy, you don't get to skip ahead and implement a new method without putting in the foundational groundwork. Well, you could do that, but you'll end up with an almighty mess and will have wasted months of time and possibly millions in money.

These technological buzzwords represent years and decades of real, hard work. They didn't pop out of the internet fully-formed and ready for implementation. They are the result of progress. Progress being the step from one stage to another, work done on top of earlier work.

Implementing a technology you don't fully understand is likely to not only leave you with something that is completely useless, but is also bloody insulting to those that developed it. If you don't understand it, leave it alone.

Discover it to earn it

My day job is in the charity sector. That's why I recognise this so well. I've heard the phrase "We do Big Data" uttered by a Senior Manager, when the truth is that nobody in the organisation has moved on to real databases, and are in fact still using Excel to handle most of their data.

You have to earn the right to use this technology. You have to work up from the basics, understand them inside out, decide what the next sensible step for your technology strategy is, introduce it carefully, use it, understand it, become expert in it. Only then do you start to consider what the next step might be, and after that, the next.

Trying to leapfrog when you haven't learned to jump will only get you hurt.

This was all triggered by an article in Publishing Perspectives, Blockchain and Potential Implications for International Book Publishing, and the resulting Twitter discussion between two tech-savvy publishing people about taking a shot every time someone mentioned 'blockchain'.

You're not at that level yet, publishing. Don't be lazy. Do the groundwork that everyone else working at that level has already done.

Where should we start?

I feel I should suggest some solutions to this problem. A place to start that will help publishers get to grips with the most pressing trends and technological agendas. Rather than talk Blockchains or Big Data or Flash (God Help Us) or XML or DRM or Vloggers or Multimedia Interactive Audiobooks.

So how about we start with the basics:

Publishers, fix your fucking websites!



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