Here’s a piece inspired by Joe Wickert’s commentary on the “smiling curve” – and an especially annoying and confusing terminology creep. You may have seen the terms “publishers” and “publishing” used more and more in contexts outside the business and economics of Big Publshing, or anything to do with books. And e-books and Amazon are only a little bit to blame for this.
You can see one example right here, on the CJ Affiliate website. Here’s their definition of a publisher: “A publisher is an individual or company that promotes an advertiser’s product or service in exchange for earning a commission. Advertisers contractually agree to work with a publisher, then provide the publisher with creative – in the form of links, banner or text ads or even unique phone numbers – that the publisher incorporates into their website.” Too bad, Penguin Random House. Lotsa luck, Bodley Head. And you can find countless other examples.
You can see where this terminology creep crept in. Newspaper and magazine houses were long referred to as periodicals publishers as well. And as their content spilled over from the printed page to the internet, the terminology followed, as a handy catch-all term to cover all those old and new media options. It also covers, conveniently, a marketing-driven world where “content” is so often thinly disguised advertising, or at best, advertorial. And that old web developer’s usage that you “publish” something to the internet when you finish saving and tinkering, and actually put it up online, helped a lot with marketing pros wedded to the dynamics of their profession.
Wickert does at least show that he knows what he’s talking about, and that the “publishing” his source article refers to is newspaper publishing, with a dynamic that “applies just as well to book publishing.” However, I am very afraid that the likes of Ben Thompson and David Carr – opinion leaders in marketing media, after all – long ago ruled book publishing out of contention, or relegated it to a historical footnote. And as they led, vast swathes of media industry thinking has followed. And book publishing’s own confusion between printed books and e-books has only facilitated this.
The end result could be entire marketing cultures that apparently operate in ignorance of any notion that printed book publishing ever existed. That looks suspiciously to me like an entire intellectual realm falling victim to the mechanical processes of commerce. I hope I’m wrong. I mean, don’t these people ever read anything longer than a blog post or a web ad?