It's quite amazing witnessing the rate of innovation in the publishing industry right now, much of it (it has to be said) coming from new entrants, challengers, entrepreneurs rather than incumbent organisations.
Unlike many it seems, I don't subscribe to the view that the dawn of a disruptive new model or technology inevitably means the death in short measure of what was there before (what Simon Waldman called 'lazy endism'). Tim O'Reilly makes a similar point in this Forbes interview about how the interesting question about the impact of digital on publishing is not about it killing print, but rather to ask how it will change books. So the really interesting game is in the new and transformative – in doing stuff in genuinely new ways. The Daily for example, feels too close to the conception of a traditional newspaper, whereas FlipBoard combines professional and social curation to make for a genuinely transformative product.
Meanwhile Seth Godin's Domino Project is pioneering an attempt to redefine the way in which books are built, sold and spread. It's a model that is about building direct connections with readers, focusing on producing high quality IP that spreads, and is uncompromising in focusing on the needs of the end consumer rather than those of middlemen, retailers, and bestseller lists. Already, they have disrupted pricing strategy, A & R, book cover design, marketing techniques, and revenue models.
O'Reilly references Amanda Hocking, the successful self-publishing e-book author who is apparently selling more than 100,000 e-books a month at $3-$5, leading some to get pretty excited about the potential of self-publishing. But she is the first to admit that her success will not be replicated by everyone, and that traditional print publishing using traditional methods still accounts for a huge proportion of value in the market. She also talks about the sheer hard work involved in the self-promotion of self-published novels. Yet it's still interesting that the economics of self-publishing on e-books have allowed completely new models with different margins and new value chains to emerge – always a sign of a true disruption that matters.
But the other interesting disruption in how we read what we read, is in format innovation. Kindle Singles ('compelling ideas expressed at their natural length') allows authors to self-publish works between 10,000 and 30,000 words, somewhere between a long magazine article and traditional novel, that can be read on any platform and are priced anywhere between $1-$5. TED Books is an imprint of short non-fiction works at less than 20,000 words each ("long enough to explain a powerful idea, but short enough to be read in a single sitting"). And 40K Books is a Milan-based publisher that produces '99 cent essays by million dollar authors' that take little more than an hour to read.
This kind of format and model innovation could well lead to a renaissance in short-form fiction. Many business books make their most powerful points in the first 20,000 words, the remaining 40-50,000 words filled with expansions and examples that make the same point. So my belief is that this is good for creativity, good for authors, good for readers and I'd suggest good for business too. The question, once again, is why does it take new entrants into the market to innovate in this way?