The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

Publishing's stages of digital grief
Andrew Curry, Director, The Futures Company
Andrew Curry

My colleague Andy Stubbings went to hear Taschen Books' Julius Wiedemann talking about publishing's rocky road to a digital future recently, and it turns out that the industry has something to learn from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five-stage model of grief: (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance).

As he writes, "It wasn't exactly clear from the talk where publishing is on the DABDA journey (inevitably, the projector was malfunctioning), but it appears we have gone past Denial ("Of course the traditional newspaper model is viable!") through Anger ("How dare people find information for free that they used to have to pay for!"), and is now somewhere into Bargaining ("OK, you can read all our magazines as much as you want online, but only by subscribing to our 'digital newstand' via your iPad").

We discussed these transitions in our Technology 2020 report (which has been excellently summarised by our sister company Digit). Digital technology is following the same foreseeable 50-70 year cycle that other big technology developments have gone through since the Industrial Revolution. A period of 20-35 years of technological innovation without radical application – "old things in new ways", followed by a second period of major social and economic change as the technology is applied to do "new things in new ways" (new applications, new behaviours, new organisations etc). There is necessarily a period of fragmentation, messiness and even "bargaining" as industries transition from the first phase to the second.

It always takes years to bridge this gap, and publishing will be no different. It's not just a question of publishing markets taking time to reach an new equilibrium where both buyers and sellers benefit, or the development of new business models to let this happen. It's not just about infrastructure, and the time that will take for new standards, new distribution mechanisms and new systems to be put in place. With the introduction of every great technology, whether it is digital technology supplanting print, or cars replacing the horse, the last thing to change is usually people's values and assumptions about how we do things, which are a legacy from the technologies that preceded it. With technological disruption, as with grief, the hardest part is letting go".

The full post by Andy Stubbings is on The Futures Company's blog.

Subjects: Digital

10 August 2012 14:45

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