Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why I love "talking" to Australasians, how to fix high school education in the States, and more on textbooks going away

Still one more interesting discussion started at Print Ceo when Richard Romano did a good post on ereaders called Being Content with Content.

The Australasian in question is Andy McCourt. Mr. McCourt's day job is something about business development for OCE in Australia, but I don't know the details. He clearly loves books and loves Print. He also seems to love to blabla about either, but only as time permits. It's a rare combination which, except for the "having a day job" part, I share.

The fact that he wrote an awesome piece about the value of the printernet helped me believe that the phrase might be actually useful. When Andy told me that the Printernet is the phrase some creative independently came up with to brand the show, I was even more convinced that I may have stumbled across a useful phrase.

The original article appeared in the words-on paper edition of Print21. I'm sure that folks who attend PacPrint will see it there. But to share with everyone, I posted a words-on-the screen version at The Digital Nirvana.

At any rate, someplace in the current thread at PrintCEO, Andy said,
As I wade through my eBook Dostoyevsky, I am finding what you say is just so Michael:-convenience. In traffic, waiting around in receptions and for appointments, on a recent plane trip (where I was asked to turn it off as we commenced descent, even though e-Ink ‘paper’ uses no energy when a static page is displayed - I complied of course). So my journey with eBooks has so far revealed that they may encourage more reading - good. They may even encourage more books to be printed: “Seen the movie, bought the T-Shirt, read the e-Book, own the real book.”

My daughter has a treasured 3-volume slip-cased set of Lord of the Rings - unachievable with e-Books. She also takes half a ton of books to school, in her backpack. Maybe if these were all on the e-reader it would still achieve the desired result and reduce back injuries. Techincal manuals too, maybe?

The journey continues…the road goes ever on.

Then I said,
The description of your daughter’s back pack is the reason that I think textbooks are going to morph into combination of e readers and print on demand.

Amazon will have the big Kindle on sale in September. The big new thing is that they have made agreements with Pearson and Wiley to deliver their textbooks through Amazon. When Jobs unlocked the IP issues it enabled iTunes. I think it’s plausible to believe that Bezos will do the same for college textbooks.

The new opportunity for customized print is in K -12 education. Keep the textbook on the ereader for reference. But for the classroom, customized printernet publishing.

Doing a unit on World War I? Personalized 48 page paperbacks or mechanical bound personalized copies with wide margins for notes. The students read, highlight and take notes. The teacher collects the books to see what they’re thinking, Then the students make considered comments on a wiki. When the unit is complete, a final version is printed so that they remember what they read and what they said. Or have a publishing party.

Since I couldn't stop myself, I added one more...
"I apologize for two in a row and climbing up on my little soapbox, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart. . .

I’ve found it helpful to think of a book as either a tool, a token or a toy. The paperback was the most convenient tool for reading. It changed the landscape. I think the ereaders will do the same. Comic books were the most convenient toys, but that is being eroded by video games.

Print remains the optimal tool for learning to think logically in the sense of being able to do “compare and contrast.” It’s very inconvenient to compare and contrast on any potentially moving screen.

The new mass market value of a book is as a token.

It’s the best physical object to capture and share a memory. It’s why photo books are mass market and people still love to receive printed greeting cards. The recent Amazon HP collaboration delivering picture books of the Obama campaign, into which you can put your own picture is an example of a new kind of book that functions as a token of an important personal historical event.

It will be interesting to see how well it sells."

Since the primary purpose of this blog is to allow me to bloviate at will, I will continue ....

Consider Andy's description. “Seen the movie, bought the T-Shirt, read the e-Book, own the real book.” Exactly! The basic principle of media is "the more, the more . . . only different." Contrary to the common wisdom, media has never been a zero sum game. It is an win - win game. The best way to win is with an ESS strategy.

"Wrote the book, followed it as it was being written, bought the book."
A significant number of the best sellers in Japan were written on cell phones on the trains to work. An extraordinary phenomenon that can be understood as unlocking for the mass market the value of a book as token of memory.

The very fact that the book was written collaboratively in the Cloud created the experience that was captured in the printed book. Making that experience shareable created enormous value that was monetized by the purchase of the printed object. It's a lovely example of how the network can create a monetizable value to a commodity. It's the same mechanism that unlocks the value of publishing in K - 12.

The lesson for globals and the printernet
In a VCE (value chain economy) additional value was added to the box by advertising. "No ever got fired for hiring IBM." In a UNE (user network economy) additional value is created by collaborative creation. The amount of value created is exponentially related to the number of users/creators. The value explodes when the number of users reach some critical mass.

The new thing is that "critical mass" does not have to mean a gezillion users. For the printernet, the 24 Oce jetstreams around the globe is already a critical mass if someone facilitates the connections between them. The Color Company stores in London are a critical mass. The Alphagraphics world wide network is a critical mass. Xerox Premier Partners is a critical mass. HP's Indigo owners are a critical mass. What's next is energizing those in place networks. In a UNE, that role falls to the User Network Facilitator. In the world of evolutionary biology enzymes can be seen as User Network Facilitators.

Random Mutation, Selective Destruction
Like an enzyme in a creature, so is it in a human community. A seemingly insignificant difference can lead to a phase change that results in a creature's survival or disappearance. The process of evolution has been described as random mutation and selective retention. I think it might be better described as random mutation, selective destruction. It's like weeding a garden, pruning a bush, forest fires or reorganzing a global.

For globals and VCE - value chain economy - enterprises, behaviors continue until they don't work. Only then do new behaviors emerge. For people and small business, they respond in real time to changes in signals. When gas prices went to $4 in the States, miles driven went down about 5 or 10%. No advertising, no "social responsibility," no blablabla. Just real people adapting in real time to clear signals from a noisy messy environment.

Newspapers are only the most recent example. They've been in secular decline since the 1970s. But the legacy behavior was producing money. There is still lots of blablabla about why. Some believe it was the content. Others believe it was the monopoly position. Others believe it's the End Of Print. Others believe that the Internet Changes Everything. I happen to believe its a broken advertising business model.

Probably all the opinions are true. But as long as the money machine was working, it didn't matter. The ensuing blablabla can be fun and reveals all kinds of ways the world has always worked. It's a field day for bloviators like me. But if your day job is making money, it's just blablabla.

It's only when things don't work, that it's appropriate to do new things.
Now the newspapers will evolve into their next business form. It will most probably be some combination of versioned newspapers, web based something and finding new stuff to sell. My bet is that they will go in with both feet into the education business. At any rate, as printers we've lived through this a couple of times. In my lifetime it was cold type, then Postcript and DTP, then color separations. Many shops had their most profitable years just before they were destroyed by waves of destruction. But the ones that made it through probably have the right organizational dna to thrive in the next destructive wave.

Waves of creative destruction periodically sweep through the world. They destroy much. A tiny, often accidental difference is often the difference between life and death. Usually it's about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Most often it's about the inability to respond fast enough to stay alive.

Evolution, Biology, DNA and organizational dna
In the world of biology and evolution, the cycle time between waves is very short. Virus dna lives 1000's of generations in a few days. The unlucky or unadaptive virus do not make it to the next generation. Because virus DNA replicates so many times, one gene attached in one way has the opportunity to move from Mexico to New York City to Japan in a matter of weeks. Or a tiny difference to DNA in monkeys can turn into AIDS.

Humans have only gone through less than 150 iterations since the time of the Greeks. The real stage of human evolution happened over the tens of thousands of generations during the Pleistocene era. Tiny differences destroyed most of that DNA after a while. What remains is the DNA that defines both our physical abilities and our cognitive frameworks. It's not only about opposable thumbs. It's about the surviving patterns in our brains that make humans love art, conversation, style, and "love" itself.

Long business cycles seem to have a 50 year periodicity. When they crash it is"interesting times." We now seem to be at the crest of the latest wave. Many business organizations are being destroyed, leaving room for more adaptive sustainable organizations to take their place. To us time bounded humans, it seems as if change happens in "tipping point" time.

But consider that earthquakes are eons in the making, but appear as tipping point events when they present. Since business is just what humans do in nature and since nature is governed by the rules of evolution, it only makes sense that the rules of evolution is the best way to make sense out of what is happening in business.

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