The Day Digital Died

It was a seemingly innocuous situation… I was sitting in a room filled with publishing types: book publishers, librarians, agents, industry press, metadata specialists, and consultants of varying shapes and sizes. We were there in an advisory role to one of the digital publishing conferences.

Things started innocently enough – the usual suspects began to chime in (I am shamelessly unable NOT to talk in a group). As I spoke I began to feel a strong sense of familiarity. And that feeling grew and grew as the conversation rolled forward until I felt I was having a deja vu on steroids moment. It dawned on me that I was in the exact same discussion about the exact same conference in the exact same room as I was last year. And you know what – it wasn’t déjà vu, it was reality.

We were having the same discussion because we were talking about digital as if it were a new way of thinking, publishing, selling, etc. We were circling the carcass of a topic that had been discussed ad infinitum – because it was all speculation and postulation. And nothing is better fodder for discursive debate than speculation and postulation!

At that moment I realized the world of publishing is now so thoroughly changed by digital, that digital is no longer a discrete topic/subtopic/theme/raison d’etre. Digital has ceased to be an independent, stand-alone, separate entity; digital is now blended into the very fabric of the entire publishing business.

And so, as we sat and attempted to determine the topics of a conference that would be presented to hundreds of participants and thousands more via broadcast and Twitter, we became stuck on what was possible and practical to discuss.

We no longer have the luxury of openly discussing the issues at hand, because all of the issues make up the cornerstones of how we do business. Publishing is digital and everything we do is based on digital. Any real discussion of how we approach the business is a discussion about core strategy… and that discussion is usually, if not always, a private, severely limited-audience kind of discussion.

And, I believe this realization helps me solve a basic problem regarding this blog.

As you have no doubt noticed, there hasn’t been a heck of a lot of activity here for quite some time. There are many reasons or excuses for this – running the gamut from “I don’t have any time as I commute between two countries and effectively have two jobs” to “I start to write but then get caught up in whether I can/want to share what I have to say.”

And therein lies the rub. While finding the time to write is clearly an issue, sharing what I have to say is extremely difficult. Not because of any imposed censorship, but because I may have information that is inappropriate for sharing. When I started blogging at OUPblog, I was commenting on an industry in its digital infancy as an outsider looking in from the ivory tower of university press publishing.

Today I sit within an influential publishing house in a forever-changed industry. What I am thinking about and working on are no longer the speculations of an outsider. I cannot escape the fact that most of what I would write I cannot or do not want to share in such an open forum.

And so here we are. Digital isn’t really dead, it has gone corporate. And dear readers so have I. This is my coda – the last posting on Black Plastic Glasses. This is not the end of my blogging or writing – but it is the end of my role as a blogger writing about the impact of digital on the publishing industry.

I leave you with a story about a conversation with my friend Mike Shatzkin.

Mike and I were discussing the fact that I was about to launch this blog and call it Black Plastic Glasses. He advised me to reconsider the choice of Black Plastic Glasses, as he feared I would forever be stuck with it.

Mike was absolutely right. I branded myself as the guy with the Black Plastic Glasses (even though Peter Balis of Wiley had the look long before me) and I have had to keep that look ever since. As Mike said, “if you build a brand you must maintain it.”

Today I move begin the process of building a new brand. I close out this blog not with a word, but an image. Digital and I have both gone mainstream.

Rimless tortoise-shell glasses
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5 Replies to “The Day Digital Died”

  1. Evan, my dear friend, you went corporate back in 1986. I’m glad you have finally realized it.

    It would be interesting to hear your musings on the how the effective transfer of control of ‘content’ (what a dreary word when the emphasis is on the first syllable!) from the old order to the digerati will affect our culture generally. Do you think we will continue to get stupider, or are you hopeful that somehow there will be a recovery of real literacy? Or am I simply wrong in my premises?

    The new glasses are very corporate, and a good look for you. Please let us know where to find your new blog.

  2. Evan Well , I have loved your work on this site , and I think your new glasses are an improvement . But as to your point ? Well , I have known that we were living in a digital first world since 1985 and the revolution in science and professional publishing . The frustration has been that general consumer entertainment publishing workflow and marketplaces took so long to catch on – and always assumed that they were somehow ” publishing ” in essence . So lets drop digital – and lets drop “publishing ” with it !

    Thanks for great arguments sustained over the years ! David

  3. Evan probably one step behind you for different but silimliar reasons
    Still have a lot to say and input but it like watching the children grow up – sometimes you have to let go

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