Should publishers become software firms?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

It’s time to stop suggesting publishers forget their heritage and become software companies.

Software is a completely different business.

While its conceivable (and highly likely) publishers will dramatically increase their arsenal of technological competence in the next 12-18 months, it’s extremely difficult to imagine publishers becoming software dev houses.  Rather, it’s far easier to see them as the expert users of platform standards than the creators of those standards.

Having founded and managed software companies for over 15 years, I feel I can speak from experience that it is a very difficult business in and of itself – without worrying about having to tell compelling stories.

Guardians v. Developers

Publishers don’t need to be the technology developers in order to succeed in the face of digital. Publishers need to be the guardians of the story, using whatever means necessary to best bring the story to life.

Today, there are countless technologies, authoring platforms, standards (ePub, KF8, PDF, etc.) and more available to the storyteller and publisher. For any type of desired reader engagement, a technology exists for it to be accomplished.

No longer is there a single right answer or format for a story (e.g. words on paper, bound and placed on a shelf). There are dozens of right answers – with each work taking on its own necessary path of optimized delivery.

Publishers must be able to connect storytellers with the absolute best technologists and technologies to tell the particular story in question vs. writing the code themselves.

Movie / TV directors and producers didn’t become expert technologists for CGI. Script writers didn’t either. Rather, they all learned when and where to leverage the right technologies and the right resources to best tell the story and engage their audience.

Side note: There are always exceptions to the rule (see Pixar), but these are exceptions well beyond the realm of traditional organizations. 

Telling Quality Stories Is Hard Enough

Asking any organization to be an expert in all of the rapidly changing technologies in and around storytelling is next to impossible – especially when it’s an organization that has been hesitant / resisted the technological shifts for the past decade (or longer).

While there are nearly countless startups delivering authoring tools today, and apps could very well the future of book, the need to develop proprietary tools and frameworks v. expertise in them seems to be a really tall order for publishers

These are seriously exciting times for readers and book and news publishers.

It would be a shame to see publishers lose their focus building software vs. utilizing the best platforms available to continue to bring great stories to readers around the world.

2 thoughts on “Should publishers become software firms?

  1. Holden Hardcastle

    No one is asking publishers to become software companies but publishing could learn from the software creation process.

    1. Chris RechtsteinerChris Rechtsteiner Post author

      Holden –

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      From my vantage point there are increasingly frequent questions to (and from) publishers relative to the acquisition of software companies, “apps” companies, etc. These questions reflect an uncertainty regarding the need for the publisher to become something more than they are today.

      Yet, when stretched into a completely different industry, it would be incredibly difficult for a publisher (or any business) to succeed.

      There are certainly learnings from the software creation process – agile in particular – as books (and news) become more live assets vs. publish once assets.



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