Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Last week, Wired interviewed Tim O’Reilly, the CEO of O’Reilly Media, a company that has revolutionized the e-publishing space over the last 35 years.
Starting with computer manuals, the company rode through both the dot-com boom and burst with arguably the first web portal in 1993, and forward-thinking Web 2.0 and open source conferences. They rooted their business in long term, sustainable solutions versus quicker money-making opportunities snatched up by startups.
O’Reilly expounded on values of inclusion, openness, and democratization when it came to the web. He might as well have put Apple into a time out for their closed approach to innovation and their tendency to try to “own too much.” He credited Google for at least thinking about these principles, and lauded Amazon’s cloud initiatives—but did say he wished they were a “little less ruthless.” Preach it, O’Reilly!
But…further on in the interview, the former Classics major at Harvard inexplicably called for abolishing literary novels:
But I don’t really give a [redacted] if literary novels go away. They’re an elitist pursuit…the novel as we know it today is only a 200-year-old construct. And now we’re getting new forms of entertainment, new forms of popular culture.
Say what? Here is a thought leader in the digital revolution of publishing, and he is advocating to get rid of precisely what many traditional publishers, large and small, are fighting to keep alive. Is there a middle road? Are there gatekeepers out there who understand the nuances, potential, and technical premises of emerging technologies, who are innovators as well as impassioned proponents of the written word? The two do not need to be mutually exclusive, clashing ideologies. But what is frightening is that this disconnect threatens the essence of publishing.
Publishers—particularly trade—are well known to be horrible business people (i.e. the whole book returns calculation that lives on today, their slow-on-the-uptake response to ebooks). Thankfully, there are publishers like Open Road who demonstrate care and passion for promoting authors and keeping novels, new and old, alive and readily available through the their proprietary cross-channel marketing platform. Let’s hope that other publishers take note.