(Tim) Over at I, Cringely, the buildup to the tablet Apple's rumored to be coming out with soon is the occasion for an excellent series of articles on publishing's past and present. As Jobs prepares to unleash Apple's latest, where have we been and where are we headed?
When I started blogging for World, lots of people told me to shorten my posts because no one wanted to read online content longer than a paragraph or two. As I saw it, though, the web was another gift from God allowing us to bypass The Suits at the wealthy Christian magazine and book publishers. It didn't seem right to waste this tool on the sort of once-over-lightly crud most blogs served up. Why not use the web as an extension of a pastor's calling to shepherd God's flock?
Sure, there was no pay in it. But if what we cared about was the Church; if what motivated us was Her protection and sanctification in the Word of God; then shepherds could use this new medium with joy, thanking God for the ability to publish without the transfer of money in either direction. Not being paid by any publisher was the perfect equation for us, wanting as we did to write some pieces no evangelical publisher would allow.
The wonder of it is that, once again as at the time of the Reformation when printing and pamphleteering hit, God has given us technology that makes it possible to bypass the compromised or corrupt powers that be...
As the Reformers were able to go into print, bypassing The Miters and Croziers of Rome, today we're able to go onto the web, bypassing the schoolmen and suits of New York, Atlanta, Grand Rapids, St. Louis, Colorado Springs, and Wheaton.
The sea-change in publishing we've witnessed in the past five years means pastors are able to speak to the Church without having to receive the blessing of, for instance, the PCA's bishops, cardinals, and pope. These men aren't happy about this. They see themselves as gatekeepers who alone are to be trusted. But of course, across church history it's been rare that the Holy Spirit's Truth has been guarded most faithfully by the rich and famous. And if a man were to make the case that today's the one exception to that rule, I'd want to know what goodies he'd gotten from these guys. You bet there's a payoff somewhere.
Anyhow, those were a couple thoughts spawned by this series on the future of publishing on the web. To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the first in the series:
Ad agencies 15 years ago didn’t want to know whether or not their ads had actually been read, they told us. This was simply because if an advertiser discovered that few, if any, people were actually reading their ad on page 113, the company might just pull that ad and save their money, taking revenue away from the ad agency in the process. The entire ability to sell an ad-edit ratio of 75 percent (which was needed to qualify for printed distribution by second class mail – yet another buggy whip in a digital era) was based on this deliberate ignorance. Ad agencies and publications alike knew that many — even most — advertising dollars were simply wasted, but it wasn’t in their interest to admit that, so they didn’t.
Contrast this to pay-per-click, which is brutally honest, where every successful ad has efficacy and advertisers have a pretty darned good idea what they are getting for their money. This reality is precisely why ad-supported magazines, newspapers, and television are losing revenue. It is a trend that is likely to continue, and can only result in a degradation of production standards on the print side to match the reduced revenue potential of the online business, where BS gives way to measurable, though impoverished, results.
It is not a pretty picture. More pay-per-click means more online content but ultimately less money for producing that content. Print publications fade from sight or continue primarily as art forms, rather than businesses. None of this is intentional. This isn’t Google or Apple or any other company setting-out to destroy an industry. It is simple Darwinian evolution that will ultimately make many print publications as obsolete as I already am.