Open source publishing.
Open source publishing happens when a non-publishing company producesa book (or similar product) which is aimed at the market.
Starbucks has done it. Wal-Mart has done it. (A CD and a book are, in many ways, nearly identical products.)
In the tech market, where I come from, it’s like running a "fab-less" fab. You design the product, you connect it to markets, you create the demand, and then you job out the production. Many successful semiconductor companies work this way. Nvidia works this way.
Microsoft has had a book-publishing operation for years (that illustration is from the folks at Microsoft Press), which has been slowly moved in-house. The success of Apple — filling the market with iPods — is based on its farming-out of manufacturing in this way, becoming a "virtual producer."
As with publishing a blog, however, money is not the only object of these efforts. There are often other things at stake. Like power.
This business trend actually started on the Right, with "publishing" houses such as Regan Books.
These were pots of money, with little or no actual experience in
publishing. They created products, splashed political names on them,
moved them through the channel, then bought them up — voila! —
instant best-seller. Most of these books go to places like south
Georgia to die. It’s not important that the books are read, only that
they sell, then appear on best-seller lists. Once they do, the political point
(whatever that happens to be) is advanced.
Now the parting on the left is a parting on the right. (Or vice versa.) Working Assets, which started out as a re-seller of credit card and long distance services, has gone heavily into publishing, first with a Web site called WorkingforChange and now with books, such as blogger Glenn Greenwald’s How Would a Patriot Act. (High-ranked on Amazon, as all the lefty bloggers love to point out, before it even comes out.)
It’s important to note here what publishers do. They are not, as I once thought,mainly about production or printing. Publishing is a marketing function, which needs dollars behind it, as well as distribution channels.
But there is nothing special about this marketing or these distribution channels. Anyone can do it, and they can have any motive — profit, politics, you name it.
Meanwhile, the closed source" publishers — the people who once vetted what we read, edited it closely, and dominated the distribution channels — continue to circle the drain.
There’s an important business lesson there. It’s a lesson of open source.