jetpacks“If you build it, they will come.” A misquote of a line from the movie Field of Dreams, about disgraced baseball player Joe Jackson’s quest to build a new baseball stadium, the phrase makes a convenient shorthand to describe any attempt to create something new that consumers as a whole may not actually want. And that phrase immediately came to mind when I read this Publishing Perspectives editorial about a Dutch attempt to brainstorm a new “jet pack” for publishing—some “disruptive” new innovation to move publishing forward into the “future.”

Edward Nawotka writes:

This year in November the Dutch aim to give it a shot. This summer, the Dutch Publishers Association put out a call to startups around the world to submit proposals for their “Renew the Book” project.

Under the program, five companies will be invited this November to live and work in Amsterdam for 40 days, all expenses paid, to collaborate with publishers and come up with new ideas to address how people will develop, distribute and devour books in the future. At the end of the project, one winner will be awarded 15,000 euros to implement their idea.

Good luck with that. Really. In my experience, you can’t just wake up one day and decide to disrupt an industry. (Well, unless you’re Jeff Bezos, I suppose.) Anyway, hasn’t the biggest disruption already happened over the last ten years or so, with e-books finally becoming a force to be reckoned with? What more do you want?

But perhaps there is truth in Nawotka choosing to use the image of the retro-futuristic “jet pack” that people thought we’d have by now as a metaphor for some new futuristic innovation. After all, we still don’t actually have jet packs—the world has managed to get along without them, decades after people expected we ought to have have them. Indeed, any time someone has come up with some sort of dramatic new transportation innovation, such as the Segway, it by and large fizzled. But we have seen other, less flashy innovations gradually appear, such as the BlueIndy short-term car rental program. So maybe we don’t need jet packs after all. By the same token, I’ll be very surprised if anything actually comes out of the Dutch “Renew the Book” project.


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