As the world of publishing changes, so too, does the way we create containers for content.  It used to be enough to have paper and ink.  Now we have a virtual world where mere replication is the business recipe of the day, but the real, inherent, power of original content is that it cannot really be contained because it is always transmogrifying into multiple, redistributable forms depending upon end user need and desire.  Content isn’t king.  How the end user changes the content container is king.

Virginia Heffernan tries to wrap her head around the propagation of ever-changing content containers:

Does anyone still believe that the forms of movies, television, magazines and newspapers might exist independently of their rapidly changing modes of distribution? The thought has become unsustainable. Take magazine writing. In school or on the job, magazine writers never learn anything so broad as to “tell great stories” or “make arresting images.” You don’t study the ancient art of storytelling. You learn to produce certain numbers and styles and forms of words and images. You learn to be succinct when a publication loses ad pages. You learn to dilate when an “article” is understood mostly as a delivery vehicle for pictures of a sexy celebrity. The words stack up under certain kinds of headlines that also adhere to strict conventions as to size and tone, and eventually they appear alongside certain kinds of photos and illustrations with certain kinds of captions on pages of certain dimensions that are often shared with advertisements. Just as shooting film for a Hollywood movie is never just filming and acting in a TV ad is never just acting, writing for a magazine is never just writing.

The fact that articles live in digital form and no longer, primarily, on paper, frees them from certain constraints that seem absolutely normal to old-media people and archaic if not just stupid to everyone else.

Ideas and information want to be free and they resist the confinement of a content frame. 

Thoughts don’t want to be restricted and the battle between profit and provisioning becomes an unwinnable battle that cannot be bought or bartered.

As we move forward, it becomes clearer and cleaner that arresting content and then charging for its container is no longer a sustainable economic business plan because the dangerous end user will simply choose to transform the memeingful message beyond simple replication.


  1. The thought occurred to me that with my novel Kate, I may as well sell it as a digital only since it would be a waste of paper were it to be printed and not sold. I could sell it for a year or so and then give it away afterwards in pdf format (while still offering it for sale for those that would be inclined.) Might make it easier for everyone in the long run.

  2. Hi Gordon!
    Thanks for sharing your publication thoughts.
    Will you design and format your e-book? Or will you just distribute it as plain text?
    Will you use an copy protection schemes for your electronic distribution to protect your content from those that do not pay?

  3. I am planning on publishing using Amazon kindle for the first year which more or less answers your questions 🙂 I will offer plain text and pdf a year later – with a paypal link, of course!

  4. Hi David,
    I agree, content isn’t the king anymore – it’s the end user. And the more user friendly our content gets, our reach becomes wider.

  5. If what I am writing ever gets to print it will be in a purple leather covered book as a limited edition – so it can be taken into dungeon/playrooms everywhere 😉

  6. E books also take the edge of any atmosphere one might wish to create in those circumstances!

  7. That’s true, Nicola. I do think that, one day, e-books will have to find a way to re-create intimacy with the page and I think publishers are on the right track with bendable and folding e-ink displays that are right there on the horizon.

  8. What I meant by “user friendly content” is to correctly predict the future reader’s preference and follow it to reach them.

  9. That’s a tough task, Katha, and incredibly necessary, as you say. Some reliability of marking the past against the now is the only way to make it happen.

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