Publishers as purveyors of education

| September 20, 2009

In Post-Medium Publishing, Paul Graham makes the very elegant point that people have never paid for content. He explores this point from a few directions, pointing the way toward a future with low-cost distribution and high-quality “events.”

Publishers of all types, from news to music, are unhappy that consumers won’t pay for content anymore. At least, that’s how they see it… In fact consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? Why didn’t better content cost more?

If he’s right, it’s amazing how slow publishers of all kinds have come to appreciate this – even as they run their businesses into the ground. (Perhaps they are just being optimistic that they will survive long enough to retire!? Anyone under 60 should probably adopt a different strategy.) The same could be said of academic institutions.

While academic publishers are conveniently tied to institutions with event models, I suspect they will increasingly see “traditional” publishers move to compete in the academic marketplace… offering new and powerful educational experiences. Will they be able to compete head-on with colleges and universities? I suspect they will. After all, they’ve been distributors all along – it’s just a new kind of content.