Leveraging the corpus of print publishers

Though I just finished speaking on a rather chaotic panel entitled “Maximizing your Blogging Strategies” that got rather sidetracked with questions of information overload and multiple media weblogs / RSS information, the most interesting experience I’ve had so far today at Gnomedex was bumping into Joel Fugazzotto from Sybex.

A major computer and technical book publisher, Sybex nonetheless still holds on tightly to the power of the printed word, the importance of paper and the apparent belief that the book is more important than the content within the book.

Joel and I talked at length over sandwiches about how publishers like Sybex have a gold mine of information, of content (I’ve talked in the past about the golden value of content for Web sites) that they’re just not leveraging. A great example of how publishing companies don’t realize where their true value lies is what happens to books that go out of print: they just … vanish.

Yet imagine if all publishers just let obsolete, out of print books, books where they’ve already written off all possible future revenues, move into a public archive, a free online library? Further, from the perspective of an author, if my book’s out of print, I’d definitely like to have the rights revert back to me, because even if it’s seemingly obsolete material (say, a book on HTML 2.0), there’s still value to the content and placing it online.

So that’s a lot of what we talked about, ideas like having Sybex just open up its archive of obsolete, out of print material, and put them all up on the net as a huge library. But extend that idea further and imagine how you can actually leverage that material rather than just make it available. Now I envision a virtual Library of Alexandria (well, I know, the domain’s taken already) where a publisher with a massive backlist could actually produce a 25,000+ page online technology history site, with advertising, with upsells to current books on their line, and even, perhaps, with paid subscription only discussions with the authors of the original material who could then share with a subpopulation how things have changed, what’s improved, and what hasn’t.

And so lunch was a pretty darn interesting conversation about a topic that I’m not only thinking about quite a bit, but also going to be speaking about at an entrepreneurs conference in Pittsburgh next month.

But there’s no question that the value of a publishing company is in the words not the paper…

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