Deanna McFadden 2009 in Review: Panic on the Streets of...Well...Everywhere

Deanna McFadden, Marketing Manager, Digital Content and Strategy at HarperCollins Canada, makes her digital home at tragicrighthip.blogspot.com and is a friend to woodland creatures, great and small.

Looking back on the world of publishing in Canada in 2009, it’s easy to pull out the biggest news stories and create intelligent commentary around them. From the Kindle to Kobo, there’s no doubt that the ebook has finally become mainstreamperhaps not as yet in its adoption by the masses, but we’ll see how much that changes after the holiday season as gadgets are unwrapped, plugged in, and turned on. Yet, for all the positivity around the digital content revolution, there are equal amounts of panic.

We’re not talking panic as in the “oh no what’s Marcus Dohle done now”-type headlines on Publisher’s Weekly, but the kind of disquiet that leads to companies making some truly bad business decisions. No one can possibly accuse publishing (in general) of being a rash business. We’re still using publishing models that were adapted when we printed the very first books. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but you get what I mean. We evolve slowly, so the fact that digital content and the ebook revolution has made it this far in this short of an amount of time remains a little staggering.

Somehow, though, we’re rushing in all the wrong places. Entire businesses are being formed around technology that may or may not be relevant in six months. Companies are pulling from tight resources to make sure they’re at least in the digital space without having any real strategy behind what they’re trying to do. People are building giant web-based properties without any foresight about whether or not they can make them online destinations, or even fully realizing what’s involved in doing so.

This is the kind of panic I mean, the “if we don’t then we’ll be left behind” mentality that’s driven much of the conversation around the digital side of publishing in 2009. It’s the biggest trend I’m seeing as entire companies move from fad to fad, mistake tools for marketing reach, and leave behind the very thoughtful practices that have ensured our staying power. Yes, there are archaic practices that need to be overhauled. Yes, there are problems with many, many parts of the publishing business. Yes, we need to change. But what does that change look like and at what cost should we be making it?

While my giant sweeping generalizations might not be newsworthy, they certainly have given me pause to think as I reflect on this past year. There’s nothing wrong with taking a deep breath as an industry and figuring out what the right next move is, whether you’re a smaller house or a larger one. Maybe ensuring that 2010 becomes the year of the conscious revolution in publishing instead of knee-jerk revolution might be the only way for the panic to subside and for us to survive well into the next decade.