At the 2012 London Book Fair, the CEO and founder of Toronto startup Wattpad was fighting for the resolution that digital startups are the future of the publishing industry. On a team with Lulu.com's Bob Young, Allen Lau debated against traditional publishers Evan Schnittman of Hachette and Fionnuala Duggan of CourseSmart.
Coming in to the debate, the audience favoured the new world order for publishing: 43% were already on Allen's side, compared with just 18% for the traditional publishers (the rest were undecided). Allen, whose company won Best Overall Canadian Startup in the 2011 Canadian Startup Awards, stated that "new players always win, and it's no exception for the publishing industry."
Allen argued that publishers play a gatekeeper role, and that role is no longer needed. The internet plays that role, he said, from crowdsourcing to social networking. Allen also affirmed that the internet is a deflationary medium, noting—rather applicably—that "the marginal cost of creating copies is now zero, price fixing or not." (Hachette is currently being sued for price fixing in Canada.)
However, the traditional publishers—who countered that "disruption makes us stronger" and they have "responded magnificently" to this "perfect storm of innovation"—ended up swaying the audience. After the debate, a paltry 20% still sided with the digital startups, while a remarkable 73% sided with the traditional publishers.
It appears that this war is far from over.