Tomorrow’s Multivalent World of Publishing

By Neal Comment

In his latest column for the Century Foundation website, PublicAffairs founder Peter Osnos considers the balance between convenience and quality in book publishing, calling attention to his ongoing project with The Caravan Project, which plans early next year to release “about two dozen” nonfiction titles in just about every format imaginable to see what sticks. “The issues of quality and convenience can be interpreted two ways,” Osnos reflects. “How good the book is as a work of narrative or scholarship; and how easy it is to read it in today’s world.”

“Traditionally,” Osno adds, “when consumers have decided they want a book, they have relied on bookstores or libraries to have it in stock. Then, once they’ve located it, they have to carry it around. In the Caravan model, these experiences would be reinvented. Books will always be in stock (because of print or digital delivery on demand) and the manner in which they are read will be up to you… Books, particularly the serious nonfiction and specialized works in the Caravan demonstration, have always been limited in distribution. As the technology enables them to be always available in so many different ways, it is fair to predict they will be more widely used.”

Is it? Well, finding out is the whole point of the test run—but this article clearly demonstrates that Osnos has already joined the “evolve or die” faction, and wholeheartedly at that. He’s obviously been thinking about these issues for a while, but it was a recent USA Today article about media formats which prompted his latest musings, finding parallels between the way “the movie industry is locked in a debate about how to lure people out to theaters in an age of surround-sound, flat-screen, high-definition home theaters” and the plight of publishers trying to convince people to buy their gluebound paper collections.