Will 2012 Be the Year the Internet Finally Makes Us Smarter?

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 21, 2012

From The News Desk

It had to happen sooner or later. Paul Carr had to get something about the startup business right.

He's been saying for years that books and publishing was going to get sexy again-- and not just for wonks like us who write books and naturally care about the fortunes of the boutique industry.

If you'd asked me whether SOPA or books would drive more traffic our first week, I never would have guessed books in a million years. Books are apparently the new Lady Gaga Pantsless in Paris. (The phrase AOL once used in a memo as an example of how to get traffic...I'm not kidding.)

Likewise, I didn't see "eBooks" on a lot of sexy stories for 2012 lists, but it's certainly been the recurring theme of our first week live. Our story on Amazon killing the publishing business has been far and away the most popular, meanwhile Apple suddenly made textbooks sexy with its education event this week. And bizarrely enough I gave a keynote at a huge conference of librarians yesterday.

When asked how they should feel about the massive, tectonic shifts happening around their industry, I said to embrace them and make sure they're adding value. In other words: Do the opposite of the publishing industry, or the MPAA for that matter. I'm pretty sure authors will still be around at the end of this transition. I'm pretty sure libraries will still be around in some format. And Amazon will most definitely still be around. Things aren't so certain for the publishers in the middle.

I went to a dinner featuring super-author Michael Lewis a few weeks ago and he said, tellingly, the only reason he still used a publisher is because he's been with the same one since the beginning of his career and he enjoys the relationship. But if he were starting out in his mid-20s today, he'd probably self-publish.

I don't think we're there yet. I think publishers are still an important gateway to distribution and respectability. But we're on the path, no doubt. And that will mean not only more people reading, but more people writing-- the same way blogging did. I can't wait for the Michael Arrington equivalent of book writing. Someone who undoubtably has the chops but isn't in the old world "club."

Like newspapers didn't doom journalism, it's the publishers that are doomed-- not books. Books are getting sexier and sexier, as they take on new forms, new portability, new instant click-to-purchase convenience and reinvention as a medium.

It's hard not to like a trend that's getting more people to read, even if its Snooki's best seller. Reading about Snooki takes more active mental ability than just watching Snooki, doesn't it? (I don't really want to find out, so let's just assume that's true.)

As this continues to be a top-line story for the big companies like Amazon and Apple, expect more innovation among startups. Companies like Byliner, Atavist and Hyperink are only the first steps of a new class of publisher who turn words into digital distribution. Paul's new company Not Safe for Work Corp. will be right in the mix too. It's one of the top sectors where Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Ventures is spending his time looking for deals.

As he described it to me last week, eBooks now are where television was in the early days. All we're doing is putting words on these new devices, the same way all we could think to do in the early days of TV was have a guy reading something with a camera pointed at him. In other words, radio with a visual. With eBooks we only have words on a different screen. But that will change. Many of those changes will be ridiculous gimmicks, but many will stick and enliven the medium further.

And the best part: There's a great business model attached to it. Unlike the Web, there's no expectation that things on eReaders and mobile devices are free. It's a total digital do-over for content creators.

I also love this trend because it completely counters to that old saw that the Internet has just given us shorter and shorter attention spans, making us dumber. I don't buy it, and that's one of the core principals behind this site. We believe if we invest time and reporting in fewer posts, more people will read them.

We've barely scratched the surface of that this week. We've had a few scoops, but done mostly informed analysis. We need way more news and way more stories about startups. Now that people know we're here, that will come. But already the response has been overwhelming. I can't wait to see what PandoDaily can do with this approach once we have a full staff of smart, investigative bloggers digging around, breaking news and writing it in a compelling way that doesn't insult readers' intelligence.

I think in 2012 we're going to see the Internet making everyone smarter. And we can finally tell all the fear mongers who try to argue the Internet has killed grammar, vocabulary, attention span and curiosity to stuff it.