The link below is to an article that takes a look (albeit brief) at the history and future of audiobooks.
For generations, libraries have helped people explore knowledge, information and culture. The invention of the public library meant more and more people got to use these collections and services.
In the digital age, a public library can connect even the most remote community to networks of knowledge and information. Today’s public libraries work to engage marginalised communities as users; pioneering projects like Townsville’s Murri Book Club explore ways to make the library meaningful to Indigenous people.
Despite all this, there is one area in which public libraries are underused. Libraries can also help us plan for the future.
Long-term planning is always challenging. It’s simply impossible to gather data from events that haven’t happened yet.
Sometimes we may detect trends, but these can fall apart under what some foresight experts call “TUNA conditions”, when we face Turbulence, Uncertainty, Novelty or Ambiguity.
Think of someone trying to predict that experiments with debt on Wall Street would lead to the global financial crisis and the political ripples that have followed. Think of trying, today, to foretell all the long-term consequences of climate change.
Enter scenario planning
That means we’ve had to find new ways to look at the unpredictable future. Big business has used scenario planning since the 1960s, when Pierre Wack pioneered the approach for Shell.
In scenario planning, people come together to imagine future settings that challenge how we currently think. You don’t judge a scenario’s value by whether it’s likely to happen: its value lies in helping us to rethink our assumptions about the future.
Shell’s scenarios became famous in the 1970s when the company successfully anticipated the oil crisis that followed the Yom Kippur War. Shell hadn’t predicted the conflict, but had imagined scenarios where Middle Eastern oil producers worked as a cartel to control global supply. When those countries did start an oil embargo, scenario planning meant Shell had already thought through this possibility ahead of its competitors.
Today, experts thinking about the future acknowledge the need for engagement from the bottom up as well as top down. For example, the European Union’s new proposal for “mission-oriented innovation” aims to get all of us focused on solving society’s problems. In turbulent times, it’s important that at every level of society we strengthen our ability to imagine the future that awaits us – and our own future choices.
What is libraries’ role in this?
This chimes with the finding of research at the University of Southern Queensland, in support of a new vision for public libraries, that public libraries are a grassroots connector of people, ideas and resources:
Public library services are built on relationships, not just transactions; they are entwined with the specific and deeply local context of everyday life in the communities they serve.
Locally held scenario planning sessions, convened by communities at their public library, would make use of the library’s existing capacity to connect people – but this time with the goal of helping us reimagine the future.
Librarians would work with their local council to identify issues that call for a long-term perspective. Should we invest in “smart” tech for our small country towns? How much should we rely on recycled water or desalination in the big coastal cities?
Librarians would provide background research and host community workshops to develop local scenarios. People would start to have deeper, richer discussions about the future: there’s a reason scenarios have been called “the art of strategic conversation”.
The scenario process depends on bringing together a group of individuals in a trusted space, with enough information to give the scenarios detail and flavour. In a local community, the public library is that place of trust and information.
Much as public librarians use their skills to help with job seeking or support people’s health and well-being, as scenario planners they would apply their talents to a new domain.
Conversations that could transform politics
Playful events we have run in collaboration with Ann Arbor Public Library in Michigan, to capture the attention of children as well as adults, have begun to engage local people with the notion of the long-term future. The next step is to develop a more rigorous and substantive conversation.
If public libraries were supported to deliver strategic foresight to their communities, politics could transform. The electorate would be better informed, thinking deeper and further ahead about political issues. Councils could take decisions with confidence that the community had been consulted about the long-term consequences.
Scenarios would offer a playbook of potential futures, already imagined and rehearsed. Every Australian could have access to the kind of foresight tools that have been informing the decisions of government and big business for the past half century.
Imagine the conversations we, as a country, would be having about our future if we democratised those tools via the local library.
The conflict that exists within the organisations that own Britain’s newspapers, and the strategies that they employ in running their businesses, was recently brought into sharp focus. One of the key regional players, Johnston Press, went from publicly-listed administration to a controversial, private rebirth within 24 hours, prompting a wider debate around the state of the industry.
The company, which owns major regionals such as The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post as well as the nationally popular i newspaper, announced on November 16 that it was in administration only to reveal the following day it had been bought out by its debtors and would continue to operate as before but under the new name of JPIMedia.
While it undoubtedly leaves the newspaper titles in a healthier financial position for now, whether or not any optimism will be long-lasting, given the state of the UK’s print newspaper market, is a matter of some conjecture.
In September 2018, I made a submission to the Cairncross Review – a government initiative to examine the options for securing a sustainable future for high quality journalism. The events of the past week have led me back to the following extract:
During the past decade of declining revenues, the traditional local news publishers have used a smoke and mirrors approach to mask their editorial cutbacks. News content has become more regionalised and less relevant, patch offices and receptions have been closing, while titles have continued to be branded as local. There are understandable business reasons for this happening, but these public limited companies have always had profits at their core, often prioritising their shareholders over their readers.
This tension remains at the heart of many newspaper companies – and it is also a parallel to the historic and counter-intuitive decision-making that still remains when it comes to print and web content.
If everyone in the industry – regional or national – knew then what they know now about the challenges faced with monetising their websites through a commercial base then I’m sure the landscape would be very different. The assumption that display advertisers, classifieds, property and motors would migrate seamlessly into digital was fatally flawed because the traditional media giants did not anticipate the competition that would spring up. They had no track record of overcoming it by making their own offerings better than the rest.
And while they were struggling to compete online, time and cash should have been reinvested into the printed products which, while on a declining sales trend, still remain profitable and well-read by certain key demographics.
What the events surrounding the Johnston Press have done is to complete a jigsaw whose outline was already well-known – that the eye-watering return on sales figures pocketed during the 1990s and 2000s were part of a recipe for the mess the industry now finds itself in.
So what value remains in printing traditional newspapers, as opposed to an online-only approach favoured by titles such as The Independent?
There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates the continuing demise of print. But the value of print is not purely economic in nature, and should not be placed in a silo away from the value it brings to news brands as a whole.
There is a negative correlation between the popularity of a newspaper and the trust the reader has in it. If you were to place the sales and trust rankings of the main ten titles in the UK side-by-side you’d see the order turned on its head. Trust is a valuable commodity that not only gives credibility to the printed product but also pervades into the perception of the online offering of the same brand.
Take the Guardian. With one of the highest trust ratings for a national newspaper – and despite its relatively low print sales – it has been able to leverage that emotional attachment and use it to develop an online contribution scheme that will enable it to break even by April 2019. While the printed product may appear to be in decline, it still acts as a firm foundation for the overall news brand as it seeks to evolve.
Newspapers also remain an integral part of the profits in many media portfolios. Within Johnston Press, the printed offshoot of The Independent, the i newspaper, was the jewel in the crown, bought for £24m in 2016 and now being touted at a value of £60m. At a regional level, concentrating resources and a focus on print remains a core and profitable component of several groups, especially those in private ownership, such as Iliffe Media, which owns a range of local newspapers.
For the many
But the perceived value of the newspaper format should not be limited to the balance sheet – there is value for the reader, too. And sometimes it takes a holistic view to fully appreciate what this consists of. While the web may be ideal for delivering bespoke content that can be accessed via search, the newspaper allows people an opportunity for a deep dive into the news – not only reading the stories they are primarily concerned with, but stumbling across material they would never have known about otherwise.
Stories that educate and inform them about their community, their country, their world. Curated for them by trained professionals, rather than through the vagaries of any unregulated social platform. Providing what society needs rather than what an audience wants.
There is a compelling argument that printed newspapers will cease to exist, or may remain in existence as a niche offering. But freed from the shackles of shareholdings – and with a model that promotes a long-term sustainable future over short-term profits – there is an equally compelling argument that newspapers, and the journalism within them, can continue to be a universally valuable part of the media landscape for some time to come.
The link below is to an article that looks at the history and future of ‘Westerns’ in 10 books.
The link below is another article on hardbacks/hardcovers that is, in fact, a response to the previous article posted.
The link below is to an article that looks at the future of the hardback/hardcover.
The link below is to an article that looks at Amazon and Audible on there strategy for audiobooks into the future.
The link below is to an article that considers what the future may bring for reading when combined with virtual reality.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the future of Tablets and Ebooks.
I was never capable of the precision required by childhood’s frequent forays into organized arts and crafts. My personal style was much too messy, so my many artistic endeavors were more of the sketch-and-doodle variety; I often colored outside the lines, literally and figuratively (indeed, coloring outside the lines was my favorite metaphor in my teenage diaries).
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