Every now and again a technological breakthrough will come about that dramatically changes the face of the
world as we know it.
In 1450 Johannes Gutenburg created one such technology in the form of the modern printing press. This device
took the power of information out of the hands of a privileged few and allowed its dissemination to the masses.
This simple technology democratised learning and heralded a new age of enlightenment in the form of the
Now for a few pennies, people could posses copies of the bible, the works of Newton or the theories of Darwin
and knowledge began to spread far and wide.
I work in a world of bits and bytes. A world that is interactively rich but typographically poor. So when our
company got chance to go on a print making course on Eric Gills original press, we jumped at the chance.
It was fascinating spending time examining the collection and seeing how the publishing industry in the UK rose
from such humble beginnings.
Our work wasn't great, but I highly recommend that everybody in the audience spends time using a hand cranked
Printing Took Skill
People learned how to master this technology and great works of art were born. However this was still very much
a manual process and went largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
Demanded continued to increase, but it wasnʼt until the industrial revolution that we had the technology to meet
the demand. Suddenly printing could be done on an industrial scale and the modern publishing industry was
Publishers were in the position to control what got published and what didnʼt.
They also became vital to the promotion and distribution of these works.
This is true of the book and newspaper publishing industries.
It was also true of the music and movie publishing industries.
Due to the size and scale these industries, they began to be controlled by a few large organisations and a
comfortable status quo formed. Publishers got very good at their jobs and spent their time honing and optimising
The Birth of the World Wide Web
Then in 1990 Tim Bearners Lee invented the WWW and change all that. The WWW started a new publishing
revolution. A self publishing revolution where the people who created the content were also in charge of
The Rise of Blogging
Publishing to the web required technical knowledge until the rise of blogs. Low cost publishing platforms that
anybody could set up and run. So it was no wonder that one of the ﬁrst blogging tools was called quot;Movable Typequot;,
a nod to the previous publishing revolution.
Like most revolutions it takes time for the people at the top of the chain to notice what's happening, and by the
time they do, it's often too late.
As we all know, the music industry was one of the ﬁrst to be affected.
The WWW made it so ridiculously easy to distribute digital copies of music that the music industries no longer had
control of the distribution mechanism.
Furthermore, the rise of user generated content and the use of social software meant that the radio stations and
record labels were no longer the arbiters of taste. Instead services like Napster and Last.FM were able to ﬂourish.
It was now possible (although not easy) for bands to rise from the community without the help of publishers.
Rather than controlling a small number of content producers, people started seeking out niche interests, and the
concept of the long tail evolved.
User Generated Content and The Long Tail
For those of you not familiar with the long tail concept, itʼs the idea that the sum total of all the niche interests is as
big, if not bigger, than the mainstream interests. So with good technology, companies like Amazon and Apple were
able to make as much money from tens of thousands of small content producers as they could from the major
People started to cut out the middle man. All the music industry could to is try to clamp down of illegal distribution
of content and try to shore up an eroding business model. However the Internet was designed to be decentralised,
so legislation and legal threats had little impact and the trafﬁc would simply route around the problem.
The TV and Movie Industry
The movie and TV industry saw this happening and tried to act faster.
They started using the the web to distribute content and services like Hulu, iTunes video and the iPlayer were
Originally TV companies started sending take down notices to services like YouTube. However they quickly
learned from the mistakes of the music industry and realised that change was inevitable. They either had to get
onboard or risk loosing out to other competitors or the web as a whole.
So rather than trying to control the internet, many movie companies saw it as a possible means of improving
distribution and connection with their audience. Now they are courting companies like Apple and Youtube as new
ways to connect to their audience and distribute their products.
So where does that leave the printed word?
The rise of quot;citizen journalismquot; seemed to chip away at the authority of trained journalists and people started to
seek information from more specialised sources.
Some called this the mass amaturization of everything.
So like a lot of industries under threat, they went through the classic 5 stages of grief.
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and ﬁnally (hopefully) Acceptance.
The eﬀect of Blogging, Social Software and the Net
Thankfully blogging didn't kill the newspaper star. However the affect of over 100 million bloggers canʼt be ignored.
While itʼs true that most of them are rubbish, most of everything is rubbish. The top blogs still pull in larger
numbers of visitors and many have turned from amateur diaries into professional publishers in their own right.
The rise of blogs and social software has fundamentally changed the way we consume information.
Our News Comes From Diﬀerent Sources
Just as my parents generation talk about where they were when they heard of JFKs assassination.
People of generation X and Y will talk about how they heard about the twin towers falling
And like many of my colleagues it wasn't through a television, radio or newspapers. It was live, on the web, as it
happened. One of the great beneﬁts of the web is itʼs immediacy. You donʼt have to publish to a set schedule or
format. You can publish whenever and where ever you want to.
And much of the content didn't come from trained journalists. It came from people with camcorders and mobile
phones. Live witnesses blogging from the scene.
This multi channel world has turned us all into both consumers and potential reporters of news
Multi Channel World
These days you're as likely to see somebody on the commute to work catching up with the latest version of Lost
on their PSP or reading about the US elections on their favourite blog.
In fact reading a newspaper on the train is starting to become a bit of a minority pursuit (except for the metro free
papers which are on the rise).
We're living in a world where people don't want to be limited to one means of publication of distribution.
People want, no expect, their news when they want it and where they want it.
So as publishers you're no longer competing with just a few national newspapers
You're competing with Internet radio, podcasting, videocasting, blogging, online TV channels and social
networking sites. In fact Itʼs no wonder that News Corp bought MySpace
You're competing against everybody from the local blogger to CNN and everybody in between. Both the hyper
local and the truly international
Advertising revenues are falling so in reality you're competing for attention with any site that carries advertising,
including the all powerful Google.
And as you're reliance on paid for services like jobs, housing and classiﬁeds increases, you're competing with
digital natives like eBay, CraigsList, Monster, RightMove etc.
Rather than simply shoring up an ever tightening revenue stream, publishers need to embrace the web and
become digital natives.
You need to throw away your old models and understand how the web works, and how people use on the web.
Your web team is no longer just a division of IT or marketing. It needs to become a business unit in it's own right.
Staffed by people who understand the web.
You need to understand how two geeks in their bedrooms could create an overnight news publishing empire as
strong as many international print publications (Digg). And then you need to beat them at their own game.
The Printed Word
Due to a multi channel world newspaper penetration has been dropping since the 70s.
However there is something delightful about the tactile nature of print that makes it a wonderful medium to
enguage with. So despite running a digital agency I still enjoy the physical act of reading the printed word. As
such, I do think the printed word is hear to stay.
And the ﬁgures seem to indicate this is true. The sky isn't falling.
However rather than being your primary channel of communication, it will become one of many channels and
possibly not even your most important one.
This is a truism, so what can you do about it?
Rather than spending large amounts of money trying to capture and retain peoples dwindling attention, go to
where their attention currently is. And provide your content in a way that they want.
So give them RSS feeds, update notiﬁcations, mobile applications. Put your information up on YouTube and post
your articles to Digg. Become an active member of the web.
Smart journals using blogs and Twitter feeds to research and then publish news
Become Part of the Conversation
We often talk about activity on the web as being part of a conversation.
However traditionally publications have more been about one way broadcasting than two way dialogue.
Sometimes there is a fear that opening up dialogue will somehow erode your authority, but more often than not
itʼs the other way round.
So publishers need to opening up their sites to conversation, by soliciting comments, feedback and opinion.
Make people feel involved
Better yet, let your community help shape the content through interactivity and user generated content.
Create a community and then support that community. You're working for them now.
For example this is a lovely little interactive piece on the NYTimes site that simply asks the users how their feeling
at the moment to create a barometer of feelings. Itʼs unscientiﬁc, but allows people the opportunity to share their
opinions and exert some small inﬂuence over what they read.
People want trusted sources of information, so as well as the long tale theyʼll always need the fat head.
You need to set yourselves up as experts. Rather than simply repurposing an AP news feed, you actually need to
go out there and start surfacing the news stories yourselves. Something “Citizen Journalists” have become very
good at. Itʼs no wonder that in a recent series of Wikipedia ads theyʼve been highlighting the “experts” who feed
into their global encyclopaedia.
However if youʼre smart, youʼll be able to provide both. Becoming domain experts in niche areas and
supplementing your journalistic resources with a smattering of user generated content.
Personality and Authenticity
People on the web want personality and authenticity. They want to know who is reporting the news and form a
bond with them.
So turn your journalists into personalities and authority ﬁgures through blogs, podcasts etc.
The Guardian have done this very well with their science and technology podcasts. Rather than simply reporting
the news, theyʼve quickly become an integral part of the community.
People don't simply want the information, they want an experience.
You canʼt beat the feeling of sitting down with a cup of tea at the weekend and reading the Sunday papers, even if
there are a million other things competing for your attention.
Youʼre not going to be able to replicate that experience online, so donʼt try. However you can use the beneﬁts of
the web to create experiences that just arenʼt possible to replicate online.
Great Online Experiences
For instance some of the great data visualisations publishers like the NY Times have been doing for the duration
of the US elections. Rather than doing a one off printed visualisation, they created applications that updated over
As publishers you're able to give people a superior experience if you put your minds to it.
So invest in your websites. Make them easy to use. Make them joyful.
Become a part of the web
Rather than simply being a destination, become part of the fabric of the web.
Give your data away freely, because people will take it anyway. In fact, make it easy for people to use your data
with APIs and a developer outreach program.
Several publishers are already doing this, from large nationals like The Guardian and the New York Times, so
small local papers like the Laurence Kansas Journal.
Not Just For the Big Players
A very forward thinking local newspaper that has podcasts, youtube videos, RSS feeds and Twitter accounts.
Blogs (both staff and readers), interactive polls, classiﬁeds sections incorporating interactive maps, bar and
restaurant reviews, and a whole host of other features.
All this despite the town only having an inhabitancy of 85k and newspaper subscriptions of around 20k!
However the site gets over half a million page views a month and was described by the NYTimes in 2005 as
being the Newspaper of the Future.
Turning the Ship
Now I suspect most of you already know all of this.
In fact I suspect thatʼs why youʼre all here. To ﬁnd out how you can make this change.
The problem isnʼt knowledge. The problem is that youʼre in charge of a jugernaught thatʼs been designed to do
one thing very efﬁciently.
Staffed by people who have worked this way all their lives.
So the problem you face is simply this.
Realising that youʼve got to make a course correction.
And doing it in sufﬁcient time and with sufﬁcient conﬁdence
Staying on the same course is easy.
However true leadership is seeing when to change course and having the strength to make that change against
The people sat next to you may have already started turning the wheel.