April 1, 2007
A New Era of Publishing: Scarcity and Plenitude, Blurb, and GSD&M's Andy Hunter

Over at Idea City, the blog for our C3 partner down in Austin, Texas, Andy Hunter and other contributors have been doing some interesting work as of late. Hunter is a planning director for GSD&M, the advertising agency which has been a member of C3 since it's beginning in 2005.

What recently caught my eye was a post by Hunter, reporting from SXSW. In particular, Hunter was writing about Blurb, a "BookSmart" software package that works for both Macs and PCs which makes it easy for people to write and design their own books. Look here for publishing options.

The software is intended to appeal to those looking to create professional-style family books, professionals looking to create packages for clients, or those interested in self-publishing and selling their own books, without throwing money away to the vanity presses that feed off the desire to publish by those not in an easy position to do so.

Hunter writes that, rather than being evil, the folks at Blurb have "designed a site that's as easy as Flickr, intuitive, with Adobe-like page layout functions that won't mean spending a months pay on computer software. Write your book, lay it out yourself, print it for a ridiculously reasonable cost, and sell it online Amazon style."

Back in December, I wrote about a post from the blog "Working Towards the Betterment of Publishing," in which the author was questioning the notion of scarcity in the publishing industry. I compared this criticism of scarcity with Grant McCracken's work on plenitude. I wrote:

This paradigm shift from scarcity to plenitude and from exclusivity to the Long Tail has a lot of impact on the economic models of our country. Utopians who celebrate the complete freedom of the creator from publishing regimes are exactly that...utopian...but there is no doubt that the structure of power is shifting dramatically, and I think the traditional books publishing world is an important place to look for tracking these changes over a long period of time.

Andy's post on the GSD&M blog points out the ways in which business models and various technologies are rising up to give easy-to-use methods of countering the traditional mode of publishing. Will we reach the era of plenitude, as we have on the Web, where there are more voices than one could possibly read, and merit and credibility and reputation, as well as niche interests, create a new form of "Web 2.0" hierarchy, rather than the cultural tastes of a publishing industry?

As I wrote recently about the William Morris talent agency's move to online sites for each of its stars, these types of moves remind us that the middle man is not as necessary in an era that allows direct access to publishing tools, but the publishing industry, just as the talent agencies, still have the ability to produce the blockbusters, to have the big money and big marketing behind them.

Products like Blurb do not mean the end of the publishing industry but rather viable distribution for the indy alternatives and a more democratized form of written communication in the process.