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Three reasons why we're in a golden age of publishing entrepreneurship

Digital is creating fertile ground for startups.

We are entering a golden age for entrepreneurship in the publishing industry. The Books in Browsers conference last October and the London-based Futurebook conference in December showed a rich array of startups from all around the world. Profile Books’ Michael Bhaskar has compiled a list of publishing-related startups that he intends to add to as it grows.

There are three reasons why this growth is happening.

Books are digital

Or, I should say, books can be digitally managed. Standards such as EPUB or ONIX enable both the content and the metadata of the books to be digitally available. And this means that new capabilities and services can be built around the content. You can think of e-bookstores, of course, but startups try to look beyond the obvious: What about recommendations based on the book’s DNA á la Pandora, like BookLamp? Or relating places, songs, or others books, as does SmallDemons? And what about some remixing, like BookRiff?

Processes are digital

Internet technologies have simplified some of publishing’s processes. For a few years now, digital publishers and self-publishing platforms have experimented with new ways of approaching the market, the authors, and, most importantly, the readers. Self-publishing initiatives like Smashwords or Lulu are pretty well known, but new ventures are also popping up, like the commoditization of EPUB processing proposed by Pressbooks or BiblioCrunch. Startups that focus on offering new back-end tools and services to boost efficiency in the publishing lifecycle will be, as Don Linn hailed them, ‘heroes, even if largely unrecognized, this year.”

Readers are digital

Most importantly, readers are becoming more digital. I have been reading almost exclusively in digital format for more than a year. When, a week ago, I started “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” in print format, I fully understood how significant the digital leap is. I found myself thinking: “I don’t understand this word — where is the dictionary?” “I loved this passage, how do I share it?” I truly felt that I was going backwards. And this is where all the startups focused on social reading like GoodReads, Anobii, or Flatleaf will be competing.

Entrepreneurs from the IT and publishing industries will find many opportunities now. And they must, because startups play at least one critical role in any industry: they challenge assumptions. One of the innovation myths is that people like change, but that’s not really true. So, when an industry reaches some type of stability, and when competition starts to look like an oligopoly, then someone else needs to think differently. And startups typically do a great job there. Many of them will be wrong or will execute poorly, of course, but even if they fail, these challenges will be good for the industry. As Steve Blank states, a startup is an organization where the main goal is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And if a specific startup is unable to achieve it, others should try.

TOC NY 2012 — O’Reilly’s TOC Conference, being held Feb. 13-15, 2012, in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they’ve learned and join together to navigate publishing’s ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012

Associated photo on home and category pages: Entering startup by dierken, on Flickr.

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  • http://highlighter.com Joshua Mullineaux

    Great writeup and this is a very exciting time to publishing startups. One of the big themes that has been written up here on Radar and continues to increasingly interesting to those that author any kind of books is data and metadata. Going beyond just sales number, authors are can now directly interact with their readers (via services such as Highlighter.com), and see how people are reading and using the text. This is even more valuable for authors/readers in academic publishing. I also for see a lot more activity in the self-publishing area.

  • OptimusSpime

    When you figure out a way to get people to pay for books that they can find for free with a simple Google search – you’ll have a model for a golden age. As it is you’re trying to sell snow to eskimos.

    Other than as an act of charity, the modern reader has no need to purchase an item that is available for free at the end of a simple web search.