Why doesn’t businesses learn from other businesses? The music industry could have looked at newspapers, the movie industry should look at what is happening to music (DRM, hello!?), of course magazine owners and book publishers have lots to learn from the previous once as well. The printed word is not “safe” from digitalization.

Everything that can be digitalized will be digitalized and it’s pretty obvious who’s up next. Book publishers – it’s time to act. You have an amazing digital future ahead of you. Monetize it before some smart guy in a garage does it.

Stanford is using a scanning technique developed by Google to digitalize their library – and that’s a huge one (”digitizing hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of books from the shelves of Stanford libraries and making them available to readers worldwide and without charge.”) Scanning old books together with the fact that all publications from recent decades have passed a computer before being printed seem to make the opening of a digital library happen sooner rather than later.

Interested things is also happing on the gadget side of coin. The Kindle is a far greater success than anybody expected and e-paper/e-ink is being developed at an increasing pace. Mygazines.com has shown how cool a magazine can be presented online and, more importantly, be improved with features printed paper can’t deliver (searchability etc).

The good news is – the technological development is still in it’s early stages and as a book publisher you have time to come out as a precursor. This is probably the largest paradigm change since 1454 when Gutenberg printed his first Bible and lots of new ideas can/will be tested either you as a copyright owner want it or not.

I’m sure that books will exist forever, but think about the digital advantages and see it as a development, not a successor, of your business plan. Look at the benefits. For example you can bring 10, 100, 1000 of books on your vacation. Maybe you only read some chapters digitally and then finish the ones you find interested in a printed version. Many will probably buy their favorite titles to just have them in shelfs  because it’s an important amplifier of their identity. Furthermore I would love to buy insight in a process instead of just the final product. The possibilities are infinite and you can make additional money on them.

I’m not very familiar with the book business but here’s a little thought I had over a cup of coffee the other day. To me there is a quite obvious starting point and testing ground in the field of poetry where parallels can be drawn from pop songs released on a major label. First, there seems to be a great gap between poets and most literature customers. On the other hand the format of short texts with lots of possible interpretations seems like a 3 minute Clash song. What I’m saying is that poetry would fit the 22nd century man perfect and poems would be perfect for interactive internet supported ideas. Images, sources of inspiration, music etc can be added to lower thresholds between authors and readers.

Poetry would be a great training ground for publishers on the internet. Again, like for the music business, filter and context thru meta data and deep knowledge is where you can/should make money in the future. If you are a good publisher this is good news – knowledge about yourself, your writers and everybody else that have written a good book is your core business – that’s where you differ from the smart tech guy in a garage.

Book publishers – take advantage of the digital era and learn from the other art distributers ahead of you. Psst, don’t forget to give up a little bit of your control to gain the possibilities of the future.