Gutten Tag Herr Guttenberg.
There are two more things in history I want to cover before beginning to move forward. One is cave paintings and the other is the Guttenberg press. For most people in the tech world, Guttenberg’s invention of the printing press has been talked to death. Yeah moveable type, liberation of knowledge by the printed word, yeah yeah yeah, we know all that. Yes we do.
Yet there is a long history to appreciate before we arrive to the point of disruption, also known as, Mainz, Germany, home of the Guttenberg invention. The printing press was a physical object that created physical pages that were distributed as were the other packaged goods of the day. Everything had to be moved by foot, horse, or ship. The first version of a train would not appear until 1820’s. In the time of Guttenberg things moved slowly. 80 years passed, before Francis Bacon considered the impact of the printing press and wrote, “ typographical printing has "changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world". What better definition of disruption could there be?
The purpose of laying this foundation of history is to provide a deeper understanding about the disruption that is moving through the traditional publishing environment. If the Guttenberg press was its genesis, the we have arrived to the moment of its conclusion. The printed publishing business will never again be what it was. Printed material will continue to exist but many of the transactions that took place as a result of the industry will be gone. When was the last time anyone bought a horse whip?
Take a look at this except of timeline create by Office of Curriculum & Instruction/Indiana Department of Education.
1041 A. D. Printing by means of separate, movable characters in China
1446 A. D. Johannes Gutenberg introduces moveable type printing press in Germany
1468 A. D. William Caxton produces a book in England with the first printed advertisement
1500s Printing books and pamphlets increases
The Chinese were using movable type 400 years before its “invention” in Europe. Given the barriers to travel, language and exchange, the technology may have been landlocked. It takes 22 years for William Caxton to realize that he can leverage the new technology for advertising - In-Game advertising circa 1468. (You can’t even start a digital business today without considering how to create income from ad revenue.) Lastly the rate of adoption took over 50 fifty years. The printing press was dealing with atoms, not electrons.
The traditional book publishing business of today, still deals in atoms. They make physical books. Once the books are printed they have to warehouse them. Then they ship them to stores and finally when the books that they have printed don’t sell, they have to take them back.
Digital books are made once. They are transported digitally. (more on carriage fee's later) Execpt for a small file on a server somewhere, they do not require warehousing and you do not have to take them back when they don’t see. They can sit on the network forever and whoever wants it can download it the moment they discover that they want it.
The invention of ‘The Press’ didn’t just impact the realm of books. It optimized the production of newspapers as well. Not just newspapers but tabloid newspapers. Suddenly, the town squares were filled with postings of torrid one sheets filled gossip and scandal. It was the equivalent of the TMZ blog-o-shpere of its day and exploded across Europe. This flood of content impacted governments, courts all realms of high society. Think Paris Hilton and kim kardashian, people love gossip.
Disruption creates new branches of activity through the extension of its innovation along similar lines of function. Optimizing the printing of books optimized printing newspapers. This is also going to be a big part of the disruption that takes place over the next few years. Much of the middle is going to fall out of the book business. Technology naturally consolidates function, simply because it is more efficient throughout the network. It doesn’t matter if it is a network of machines or a network of people.
As fell the music business, so falls the publishing business in half the time or less. The only thing to consider is what to do about the atoms?