Not just books Publisher attitudes publishing evolution

Format Considerations

If you haven’t been to a publishing industry conference or trade show recently (and I would ask why not, because it’s more important now than ever to keep yourself informed of all the latest technology and trends affecting our world), you may not have heard that the book is dead. Oh, you have? Okay. Just checking.


Seriously, we all know books will never die. Like other forms of energy, they simply morph into another format. But saying the book is dead is certainly a way to get attention, and it’s been done rather well in some venues.

At 2012’s Upublish U panel during that year’s Book Expo America,  Bob Young, CEO and founder of, got a rise from the audience by saying, “There’s no such thing as a book.” Of course, that was just the first part of his theorem. He continued, “There’s only content carriers. A physical printed book is a reader the same as an e-reader.”

Fellow panelist Mark Coker, Smashwords founder, concurred. “A book is just a holder for your content. We’re a distributor,” describing the service Smashwords has now provided to 40,000+ authors. That Coker would say, “For most self-published authors, print is dead,” is likely no surprise, considering his company is the world’s largest distributor of indie e-books, in addition to providing authors the tools to market their eBooks and receive sales reports.

The whole point is that, as publishers, we collectively need to stop thinking ONLY of the “dead tree” version of the book we grew up with. We even have to stop thinking only of print and eBooks. We pretty much need to stop concentrating on the whole concept of the “book” altogether, and instead start considering it just ONE format or shell for the content we develop, curate and distribute to end users.

Yes, I know — it’s a hard habit to break. We love our books, our memories and experiences of them. It’s why we got into this business in the first place. But break it we must, for as long as we continue to think first or only of the book, we inadvertently trap ourselves into outmoded ways of delivering the substance of our product. And in so doing, we very likely trap ourselves into limited mindsets about what that content could or should be, thereby eliminating so much promise and opportunity and freedom in our creative concept stages. By removing the limits of our perception of what makes the “right” content container, we remove the limits we impose on ourselves about the potential of that content.

Let’s vow to stop thinking about the vehicle and start thinking first about the passengers: all those wonderful, vital, important, breathtaking ideas and words and concepts and photos and illustrations — and now, video and animations and audio and who knows what will come next — that create the magic of what used to be just “books.”

Let’s commit ourselves to breaking the constraint of “container-first” thinking by starting, right now, to view ourselves primarily as content curators and developers of ideas, and only secondarily as producers of containers for that content. I firmly believe this subtle but significant thought shift will help us keep our minds more fully open to the great potential that is Publishing 2.0. I, for one, am excited about the possibilities, and hope you are, too.