My wife, Laura, and I were in Barnes & Noble the other day, perusing the myriad shelves for some leisure time brain food.
As we read back covers and strolled around the store, we found ourselves discussing the merits of Stephen King's decision to release his latest body of work, "The Plant," in pieces on the Internet.
King raised the stakes in the publishing industry by forgoing Scribner and issuing the book directly to the public for a small fee per download. While many in the publishing industry are glancing over their shoulders to see if other authors are following King's lead, few believe the move trumpets the end of the publishing industry.
Rather, it's the next step in a long-overdue paradigm shift that embraces new technology and recognizes the importance of finding ways to integrate the old with the new. Traditional business mediums such as manufacturing, distribution and professional services have leapt headfirst into the cyberwaves.
Such is the way in business, now and throughout the ages. Adapt or become extinct. Hold on to longstanding principles too long without recognizing change and find yourself sharing space in the history books with ice delivery trucks and professional milkmen.
King may be the first big-name writer to take the plunge, and therefore garner attention that had previously been low key, but you can be sure he won't be last. Three years ago, there were only a handful of online publishers offering a few hundred titles. Today, there are tens of thousands of books available digitally through online publishers that have financial backing from traditional publishers.
Unfortunately, the same willingness to adapt isn't so easy for the music industry, as the high-profile lawsuit against online music trading service Napster so aptly proves.
The Napster lawsuit was filed after heavy metal band Metallica complained that allowing consumers to trade music freely on the Internet fosters pirating and copyright infringement. Never mind the fact that the music in question was originally purchased legally.
What's been oddly overlooked in all this is that sales of new music releases have actually increased. In the short time since Napster's establishment, more new releases have reached 1 million copies sold than at any other time in music history.
That could be coincidence, but it's probably not. Allowing people to trade single songs freely has essentially increased music exposure through a new marketing channel and is sending consumers to retailers in search of entire albums. The industry's virulent attacks on Napster reveal how little it actually gets it.
The final result in this case may be uncertain, but the process to get there is crystal clear. There will, undoubtedly, be some resolution reached in which the industry and Napster (and its Web cousins) create some system of revenue creation, whether it is for single downloads or multiple songs from the same album. That should appease the music industry while stopping short of curtailing innovation.
No matter the outcome, however, the recording industry, like others before it, will learn to adapt to nascent technologies and continue to thrive and survive. It's simply inevitable. Dustin Klein (email@example.com) is editor of SBN.