When The World Shifts Beneath Your Feet

Dec 6, 2011

Garrick Van Buren, my taskmaster at Kernest/Konstellations, sent me over a link to an article about how different publishers are dealing with DRM and, just as importantly, the Walmart of online publishing – Amazon.
Cutting Their Own Throats on Charlie Stross’s blog.

Uh, there seems to be a notion floating around that somehow there’s something people in the publishing biz can do to “avert the evil decree”.
(To grab an apt phrase from Jewish liturgy.) 
But, like drowning in a tsunami, or any other deluge of “Biblical” proportion, there is no averting – or avoiding – the devaluation of anything that can be converted to bits and bytes.

Back in mid January, I wrote that this year already “felt” different. And it’s been. And today I’ve been musing about the people in publishing who are going to lose their jobs. Yes. They – maybe you – are going to lose your job. And no purchasing of an act of Congress like SOPA or an outfoxing of Amazon is going to prevent this.

“Teach Me To Dance, Will You, Zorba?”

There are people who fall hard and do not find their feet for a long time, if ever — a condition some psychiatrists call complicated grief. And the depth of the economic collapse has unceremoniously stripped thousands of far more than money: reputations have reversed; friendships have turned sour; families have fractured.

In reality we are all like beggars selling apples or pencils on a street corner. But that reality gets masked over time and people feel safe and secure. The beggars huddle for warmth within things called “industries”. After awhile, the idea that people will continue to prefer buying from “us” over the other beggars begins to look and feel like a law of nature. Life can be good, even for a beggar.

I used to work in apparel manufacturing in the United States – an industry that crumpled to nothing in the face of lower-priced foreign imports. We knew that no matter how loudly we begged, no one was going to buy from us any more.
The auto workers who used to populate Detroit know all about this, too.

When the market says to you: “We can’t pay you anymore for what you do”, you move on.

But when the world shifts beneath your feet like that, don’t just stand around flat-footed, dammit. Instead, with a fresh start, focus on the possibilities and ask Zorba to teach you how to dance. If you’re lucky, he’ll oblige.

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