Publishing guru Mike Shatzkin wrote an important and well received article this summer entitled The “Big Change” era in trade book publishing ended about four years ago. You should read the article in its entirety but in a nutshell:
… the challenges of today aren’t about change of the magnitude that was being coped with in the period that ended five years ago. They’re more about improving workflows and processes, learning to use new tools, and integrating new people with new skill sets into the publishing business. And there are a lot of new people with relevant skills up and down the trade publishing organizations now. That wasn’t so much the case when things were changing the fastest, 2007-2012.
It isn’t that there aren’t still many of new things to work on, new opportunities to explore, or long-term decisions to make. But the editor today can sign a book and expect a publishing environment when it comes out in a year or two roughly like the one we have today. The editor in 2010 couldn’t feel that confidence. The marketer can plan something when the book first comes up for consideration and find the plan will still make sense six months later. And while things [are] still very much in flux in sales, a blow comparable to the loss of Borders isn’t on the [horizon].
Of course, there could always be a black swan about to announce itself.
Still emerging from the shadows is the Machine-Payable Web, a combination of new and old technologies that promises another great wave of change. In a nutshell, we’re finally going to see viable microcommerce, this time powered by machine-to-machine transactions that take place largely without human intervention and denominated in fungible cryptocurrencies. A leading company in this space is Balaji Srinivasan’s 21 funded to the tune of $121.5M by a coalition of VCs including leader Andreessen Horowitz.
First, we had the World Wide Web, a web of links between documents. Then we had the Social Web, a social network of relationships between people. We believe the third web will be the Machine-Payable Web, where each node in the network is a machine and each edge is a micropayment between machines.
Towards this end, we’ve developed open source software called 21 that makes it simple to perform micropayments over HTTP. The software allows you to get digital currency onto any machine headlessly, set up web services that accept and transmit bitcoin over HTTP, and discover other machines with similar services to autonomously trade with.
The move to the machine-payable web reminds me of 1994, when I created the Internet Book Information Center, the first book meta-site on the Web. At the time, there were 130 web sites in the world, total. (Here’s a flashback from 1998, the earliest one I can find.) Almost every website in the world can benefit from a microcommerce layer, and there are trillions of websites now. It’s a huge opportunity, and we’re moving fast to squeeze through the launch window.
Stay tuned for more!