Monthly Archives: February 2013

Time Will Tell

Using technology as a platform—not the reason—for change in the publishing industry.Illustration of the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village

At the intersection of relevance and obsolescence is the ability to recognize opportunities for change based on shifting consumer behavior and the subtle coalescence between emerging and disruptive technology.
-Brian Solis  [1]

The book publishing industry is in a state of transition, and there appears to be two polar differences in perception about what this change means for the industry. On one side, there are pronouncements that book publishing as it is known today is on a path to obsolescence, the only option being to delay the decline for as long as possible. However, there are others in publishing who state that the industry must be completely remade to survive in the long term. Those advocating for fundamental transformation will often refer to new technology development and application as the reason to disrupt the status quo.

My own opinions about the future of publishing were greatly influenced by a recent trip to New York City. Traveling by foot down Sixth Avenue, I discovered the historic Greenwich Village. While I stood at the stoplight waiting to cross 12th Street, my eyes looked up to see a beautiful building that appeared to be a church.  After doing some research later that week, I was surprised to learn that this building was operating as a public library. Even more unexpected, the structure originally served as a courthouse after the initial construction was completed in 1877. Now called the Jefferson Market Library, the building was almost torn down in the late 1950s after sitting vacant, no longer in use as a courthouse. It took the advocacy and support of some influential and concerned residents to save the historical landmark by converting it to a library. [2]

I believe the evolution of the Jefferson Market Courthouse to the Jefferson Market Library serves as a wonderful example of modernization without sacrificing the historically significant. This example of preserving a historical foundation while embracing progress acts as a powerful metaphor for the book publishing industry. I was again reminded of the future of publishing when reading Brian Solis’ new book, What’s the Future of Business? in which technology is not described as a “catalysts for change, but merely among its agents.” Emerging and disruptive technologies are not the reason to transform book publishing. They are a platform for the industry’s evolution.[1]

1. Solis, Brian. What’s the Future of Business? (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2013), 150
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website – NYPL.org