Cloud Computing's Potential Impact on Publishing

If you use Google Docs or access email via a Web browser, you’re already versed in cloud computing. Access to Web-based material is taking the place of downloads.

Cloud computing focused in the early going on software as a service (SaaS) applications, but Amazon, Netflix, Google, Apple, Microsoft and others are now tapping the cloud for content delivery (some of these companies focus on streaming entertainment, while others focus on content creation/management).

An interesting conversation about the cloud’s impact on content publishers popped up recently on Peter Brantley’s Reading 2.0 list. Peter, by way of an an article link, noted that Amazon is moving some of its video distribution business into the cloud. From Last100:

Not only is Amazon utilizing streaming in order to deliver “instant” playback but it also means that content doesn’t have to be permanently stored on a user’s hard drive. As a result, Amazon is able to offer another potential benefit to customers: a virtual video library of previously purchased content, stored in the ‘cloud’ (on the company’s own servers) ready to be streamed as many times and to as many compatible devices as the user has access to. While this will initially consist of PCs running Mac OSX or Windows, along with select TVs from Sony, in the future this could extend to many different devices, either through specific partnerships like the one currently forged with Sony, or by utilizing browser-based standards or any other technology or protocol Amazon chooses to support.

Expanding on Peter’s post, Mike Shatzkin said the centralization of cloud-based content raises issues around digital rights management (DRM) and other access limits:

The cloud changes everything in terms of piracy and copyright. We are living in a transitional period where computer storage is decentralized. When that period is over, and the time is now not far off, everything is accessed from the cloud and it will be a relatively easy matter for rules about content access to be enforced by the content originator or distributor.

As others on the Reading 2.0 list pointed out, cloud computing brings up additional questions around copyright and ownership. Toss in concerns about system reliability, open vs. closed clouds, and the potential for lock-in (or lock out) and you can see this rabbit hole growing deeper.

Cloud adoption may also represent an important moment in book publishing’s digital transition. Publishers have enjoyed the past luxury of learning digital lessons from the media, music and film industries, but the wait and see approach may not work this time. If consumers come to expect access to their content — all their content — anywhere/anytime, publishers will need to meet that expectation … or risk watching an unaffiliated company or industry step in.

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