Leapfrogging publishing

“Developing nations don’t have to play catch-up. They can adopt technologies and tools –not always from the West– and use them in their own ways, skipping older or outdated methods and embracing brand-new ones. Surprisingly often, developing countries try out solutions that have yet to take hold in industrialized nations. We call this process leapfrogging.” — Worldchanging

Leapfrogging is not a new concept, and, especially in mobile phones and mobile Internet adoption scenarios in developing countries, it’s a reality. Moreover, leapfrogging — or “tunneling through” — comes from Shumpeter’s studies on innovation processes: every incumbent is exposed to a sort of “leapfrogging risk” whenever a new competitor enters a market.

The more this competitor is unable to attack on the same basis of competition of the existing incumbents, the more it can surprise the market — or create entirely new ones — with innovative takes on product and process design.

In 2010 the iPad was welcomed as the publishing industry’s saviour: the publishing industry is still looking for answers, which also means they’re still looking for real disruptors.

“The perception of the incoming disruptors is that they are low quality, and therefore not really worth paying attention to.” — Joshua Benton

A couple of months ago The Magazine launched: Craig Mod’s excellent essay “Subcompact publishing”  (and the subsequent round-up) sums up an extensive framework that allows us to understand the instant success of this deceptively simple, four-to-five articles per issue, bi-weekly, iPad magazine.

Though I didn’t like some of Marco’s reaction (he should’ve acknowledged that good ideas are  always the first one to be stolen and then remixed later), he’s quite right on one important point: you’re not him.

Some of the things it requires to succeed: to design and make an app that works, to reach an audience big enough to make production and distribution sustainable (after one week), to drop the idea of having billions of dollars of profit, to understand that “go small or go home” can be as extreme as “go big or go home”.

The Magazine went small and went well: moreover, it showed us something that has been technically feasible for years, but nobody put in practice. An interesting, wild product has been set free in front of us, begging for our attention.

It was a moderate risk for an individual developer and a bunch of writers: wouldn’t be easier, or at least less risky, for a big publisher to try something like that?

Is there a way to make publishers leapfrog?

Perhaps “publisher” isn’t even the right word anymore.