"Today, everybody's a publisher." In the past few weeks, I've heard that claim over and over. From the corporate side, I think what it broadly means is that as the U.S. economy and many parts of the global economy become driven more by customer experiences and impressions, rather than by merely the buying and selling of stuff, forward-looking companies are trying to facilitate or even host those conversations.
How about from the other side--the consumer or individual--is everybody a publisher? The grade-school kids with blogs, the rash of wikis, the podcast phenomenon, the growing distrust of mainstream media, the ongoing move of video- and audio-streaming technology into the hands of tens of millions of people, the astonishing increase in the power and utility of mobile phones (in fact, is it still even accurate to call them "phones," since they also show movies, compose and transmit and process E-mail, take photos, and organize our lives?)--are these not all manifestations of Everybody's A Publisher?
Well, let's for a second say that's true: Everybody's a publisher. So what? What does that mean? Why should anybody care? More important, why should YOU care? Give me one more minute of your time and let me see if I can make a case for caring.
Car companies--the smart ones, anyway--host chat rooms on their Web sites for customers to rip their products to bits, or maybe even to praise them; for prospects to ask questions of current owners; for comparisons with similar types of vehicles; and for feedback on how to improve the experience of evaluating, shopping for, purchasing, and eventually driving a car. Are these car companies publishers? I guess so.
How many of you have teenagers who compose their own video blogs? Are they just goofy teenagers playing with weird toys, or are they in fact publishers?
On the Ragu Web site, you can exchange sauce and pasta recipes. Is Ragu a publisher?
A handful of beer companies are now distributing independent-label music with a six-pack or case of their product; others are running sweepstakes offering the winner unlimited downloading rights to music from well-established popular artists. Goofy gimmick or music publishing?
Notice how many sites are posting video on their home pages instead of hiding it behind registration gates or charging for it? They're doing this because online video is surging forward and becoming a normal way of sending, receiving, and evaluating information; it's mainstream because millions (tens of millions?) of consumers expect it. Publishing is no longer the domain of untouchable grandees like Citizen Kane perched atop Xanadu--it's here, it's now, it's all around us, and it's playing an increasingly big role in disrupting the way business in done in lots of industries.
And did you hear late last week that, for the 18th week in a row, attendance at U.S. movie theaters was down? And that some theaters are scrambling to transform "going to the movies" into "going to a multifaceted night of entertainment" featuring dinner, video games, shopping, dessert, arcade-style action games, and--oh yes--maybe even a movie? (Think for a second about the meaning of the word "movie"--no wonder the ground's shifting under that industry's feet.) If the traditional "publishers" in the movie business think that the recent peer-to-peer court decision will save their business models and reverse this 18-week trend, then they're even goofier than the script and acting of Be Cool. (Didn't see it? Good decision!)
A common theme in movies and books--two of the classic products of traditional publishing--is that "nothing is what it seems." That's becoming more true in business all the time, as new technology, new marketing concepts, new consumer shopping and purchase behavior, new consumer expectations, and rapidly blurring lines between an individual's business life and his personal life all combine to make a colossal hash of what, just a decade or so ago, was so simple: I make this, you buy it, and what I make and you buy hasn't really changed much in one decade or five decades or 10. I make what I've always made, you buy what you've always bought, and you buy it the same way you've always bought it, period and end of story.
Don't mistake publishing for being just articles and advertisements, or printed pages in a paperback, or CDs and DVDs and slick magazines. At its heart, publishing is communication, and it's the creation and consumption of information and ideas and dreams and details and vital statistics and jokes. It lies at the heart of many human experiences. And we here at the midpoint of 2005 are smack-dab in the middle of the Experience Economy, and your humble columnist must ask once again: Are you ready? Are you, well, experienced?
Because--come closer--I've got a secret for you: Everybody's a publisher.