The Future of Publishing?

A promo video produced by DK Books for a Penguin sales conference has gone something like viral in the last two days, getting a lot of attention in my circles. In case you haven’t seen it:

I saw this video when DK first posted it, and have been thinking about it since then, mostly because I’ve been trying to figure out what makes me crazy about it.

When I watched it again yesterday it started to hit me: couched in the “hey, maybe social media isn’t going to kill reading after all; hey, maybe we really do need to start thinking about a new business model” stuff is an essentially conservative message about the ongoing primacy of the book. That only by reading everything exactly backward can you turn “books are dying” into “books are not dying!” That either the kids today only care about pop media crap or they care about reading, with no possibility that they can care about both, or that what appears to be pop media crap might in fact be important.

I dunno. It’s clever. It’s very nicely designed. And I’m happy it’s undoing some of the “kids today” rhetoric. But I’m not sold on the message overall. I genuinely believe that publishing has a future, but my feeling is that the future is going to look more like this video than like the book as we have known it. And no amount of running the tape backward will change that.


  1. Dichotomous argumentation (Gaga vs. Ghandi? Oh, puh-leez) rarely pushes anyone’s thinking any further. The whole “Oh look, if you look at them upside down, our kids turn into our parents!” thing was a clever trick but is ultimately vapid — just what I’d expect from something made under the auspices of Dorland Kinderling (DK Books), whose products are alluringly handsome but strikingly devoid of content.

    Play backwards for a satanic message, indeed.

  2. Well, but I think that the fact that both messages are in the same video does allow for the possibility that the kids today can care about what Lady Gaga is wearing as well as about reading. (danah boyd, for instance, clearly cares about both.) After all, the same voice says both.

    I love the moment when she says, in her posh British accent, “what Gandhi [flat a] did last [long a] century.” My a’s in that sentence would be exactly the opposite.

    There was a terrific panel at SXSW called “Post-Media Design in a Digital World” that was basically all about turning digital stuff back into print (maps, books, newspapers), and the packed crowd was slavering and drooling and applauding the whole time. Didn’t seem much like the death of publishing, though granted there was a nostalgia / novelty quality to the things they were producing.

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