There is a great posting on Clay Shirky’s blog titled, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” that provides an insightful analysis on the past, present, and future of the newspaper industry. All college stores, publishers, and book retailers should read this piece because as one of our members noted, one could easily substitute “textbooks” for “newspapers” in several places. In the posting, Mr. Shirky explains that the problem that the newspaper industry is facing is not due to lack of preparedness for the internet, in fact, in the 90’s, many plans were created to deal with the internet. The real problem is that all the plans were based on the idea that the newspaper just needed a “digital facelift.” He explains:
“Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know ‘If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?’ To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.”
Mr. Shirky goes on to say that nothing will really replace what we are losing with the demise of news on printed paper but through experimentation we can find a way to preserve journalism. “Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as Craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did.” It is in retrospect that these experiments are considered turning points.
Mr.Shirky’s advice can also be applied to the college store industry. As the old publishing models are broken, experimenting with digital initiatives on campus is imperative for defining the future. One experiment may not be the answer but a collection of experiments can help to preserve the important role of the college store on campus.
Clay Shirky's posting is a must read for all college stores.