Retro Thursday Threads: Ideas for Publishers, New Reading Experiences, Internet Operating System

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I recently started reading content from a tablet device and in doing so re-encountered a list of web pages stashed in a Read It Later queue that are over a year old. Not only were these pages interesting enough to read a year ago, but in light of a year’s worth of “internet time” of innovations some of them are down right fascinating. So the DLTJ Thursday Threads this week are weaved from new reflections on old stories. First is a 13-month-old view of what publishers can do to reverse the perceived decline of their relevance in a digital publishing era. 15 months ago was an outline for a new role for publishers to engage authors and readers. And a little over a year ago came the first explorations of the “internet operating system”.

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Book Publishers’ Regrets in 2025

In 2025, when book publishers look back to try to understand why their business became first disintermediated and then displaced, the prevailing sentiment will be one of regret. They will ask themselves: “How did we fail to learn from the example of the music industry and newspaper business? Why didn’t we take advantage of new technologies instead of fighting them? How did we manage to fail to create a new generation of book readers and book buyers?”

Book buyers are not born, they are created. Today’s college students will become tomorrow’s book buyers only if book publishers invest in nurturing their next customers. Book publishers are not doing this. At some point today’s book buying market will age out of the purchasing mode (fixed incomes, more time etc.), meaning that the future of the lending library is bright indeed.

What Should Book Publishers Do:

- Book Publishers’ Regrets in 2025, Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U.

From April 2010 comes Joshua’s recommendations for what publishers should do: Sell the Book, Not the Format; Integrate the Formats; Sell to the Tribe; Treat Book Readers as Marketers, Not Potential Customers; and Start with College Libraries. Each heading has a paragraph describing what it means. A year later, I don’t think any mainstream publishers have taken him up on his offer, and I don’t think we are better off.

How to create new reading experiences profitably

Making books into e-books is not the challenge facing publishers and authors today. In fact, thinking in terms of merely translating text to a different display interface completely misses the problem of creating a new reading experience. Books have served well as, and will continue to be, containers for moving textual and visual information between places and across generations. They work. They won’t stop working. But when moving to a digital environment, books need to be conceived with an eye firmly set on the interactions that the text/content will inspire. Those interactions happen between the author and work, the reader and the work, the author and reader, among readers and between the work and various services, none of which exist today in e-books, that connect works to one another and readers in the community of one book with those in other book-worlds.

- How to create new reading experiences profitably, Mitch Ratcliffe, booksahead.com

From January 2010, Mitch Ratcliffe talks about what it means to connect with readers in a digital format, and as he says it goes beyond “merely translating text into a different display interface.” His essay talks about how publishers become the “switchboard” that connect the ideas of authors with and among the readers of the text in ways that are only possible in the digital, network-enabled realm. We may be seeing the first stages of this with publishing platforms like Commentpress and Digress.it and Anthologize.

The State of the Internet Operating System

I’ve been talking for years about “the internet operating system“, but I realized I’ve never written an extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we face. This is that missing post. Here you will see the underlying beliefs about the future that are guiding my publishing program as well as the rationale behind conferences I organize like the Web 2.0 Summit and Web 2.0 Expo, the Where 2.0 Conference, and even the Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

In this two part series from March 2010 and April 2010, publisher and visionary Tim O’Reilly defines the components of an “internet operating system” and looks at the companies that at the time were delivering some or all of the components. The second post is the real interesting one, but you can’t really read it without understanding what Tim means by the “internet operating system”: Search; Media Access; Communications; Identity and the Social Graph; Payment; Advertising; Location; Activity Streams; Time; Image and Speech Recognition; and
Government Data. It is an interesting vision, and even more interesting to see now 12 months later what companies have stepped up to fill niches in the vision. Out of all of the stories in this post, I think this is the most interesting to come back to in a year.