Schnitznel, Sachertorte and Sinofsky

Slightly surreal evening at the Austrian Embassy with an eclectic mix of Austrian and UK publishers, publishing tech folk, and international trade envoys. Surreal but jolly, lubricated by Austrian wine (who knew?), Schnitzel and Sachertorte. The Austrian Trade Commissioner, Christian Kesberg, gave an introductory talk to kick off the evening and set the tone, in which he referenced Steven Sinofsky’s 4-stages of disruption model: disruption of incumbent; rapid and linear evolution; appealing convergence; complete reimagination. (You can read the original article here.)

He made the case that we’re currently in the stage of appealing convergence: publishing has been disrupted by Amazon, self-publishing technology, ebooks, digital workflows and so on, it’s passed the point of dismissing the disruptors, and it’s now integrating into the established players. That could be because those established players are implementing or experimenting with aspects of the new technology they like, or it could be because the new players, having established themselves, are looking to the original players to see what nice-to-have features they can incorporate.

The most interesting phase of all, of course, and the one which Christian suggested lies just before us now, is that of complete reimagination. This is a return to first principles, rethinking the underlying assumptions in the light of what’s possible. Steven Sinofsky describes it like this:

‘What characterizes a reimagination is that it renders the criteria used to evaluate the previous products irrelevant.’

Looking around the room it was clear there was a variety of responses to this idea, from enthusiastic visionaries nodding vigorously to polite smiles from the privately appalled and even the odd smirk from the disbelieving. The recent boost in print sales has convinced many publishers that all is well, that ebooks were a blip, a fad that never really took off, and that their business model is safe for the foreseeable future.

Which might be true. But I’m with Steven Sinofsky – I think getting content to readers is quietly being reinvented by individuals and startups all around the world, and we’ve barely begun to see what’s possible.