Yet there are still two important jobs for publishers. They act as the venture capitalists of the words business, advancing money to authors of worthwhile books that might not be written otherwise. And they are editors, picking good books and improving them. So it would be good, not just for their shareholders but also for intellectual life, if they survived.
This backs up my thoughts on the modernisation of publishing, with the article going on to outline that, despite this, publishers need to modernise to stay relevant:
They also need to become more efficient. Digital books can be distributed globally, but publishers persist in dividing the world into territories with separate editorial staffs. In the digital age it is daft to take months or even years to get a book to market. And if they are to distinguish their wares from self-published dross, they must get better at choosing books, honing ideas and polishing copy. If publishers are to hold readers’ attention they must tell a better story—and edit out all the spelling mistakes as well.
I agree that agility in publishing is a problem and this is something that we have addressed at Packt. Our Read as we Write (RAW) program enables customers to buy a book up-front as it's being written. When the author finishes a chapter it gets added to the eBook and customers can download and read straight away. It's not fully edited or proofed but that's part of the appeal in many ways because these early adopted customers then contribute to the book's development with errata and suggestions. It's not quite community publishing, but it's close.
You can read the full article here: www.Economist.com/node/21528628. As a side note, I was surprised that The Economist hasn't used keyword rich URLs for its articles. Surely that's rule one in site design these days?