Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Future of Instructional Books

Publishing is changing.

That is not news. The industry has been in disarray for the better part of a decade, or maybe longer depending on how you look at it. As soon as Amazon entered the market, the brick-and-mortar distribution model began to crumble, and then e-books and on-demand printing followed not long after. Borders closed up shop, and Barnes & Noble is uncertain about its future.

Readers are consuming content in different ways, and the old guard is hesitant to admit that their original recipe might not match current tastes as well as it once did.

We’ve seen this shift in the world of jiu-jitsu publishing as well. The use of on-demand content sites appears to be growing, if the proliferation of such sites is any indication. was once the lone player in the jiu-jitsu video on-demand market, but now Andre Galvao, the Mendes brothers, Eddie Bravo, and the Ribeiro brothers have entered the market as well.

The benefits seem clear for everyone involved: instructors can generate more consistent revenue more quickly and users can enjoy a quicker turn-around in new material and wider variety of content. The focus of DVDs and books tends to be narrow, and the production time can take months or even years. The video on-demand model is successful for many of the same reasons that YouTube as a service is successful: content is updated almost daily and the material is easy to digest.

Other jiu-jitsu content producers are taking advantage of digital distribution in a different way. Where Stephan Kesting and Roy Dean produced DVDs they are now producing apps. Budovideos has also taken note of this shift and being pushing its own digital versions of instructionals, seminars, and competition footage.

When I was the Editor-in-Chief at, I saw the shift from photo by photo instructionals to YouTube videos, and it seems that this shift has touched every corner of jiu-jitsu instructionals, whether that content is being consumed on YouTube, in an app, or through an on-demand service—large numbers of short, specific videos.

This change in paradigm has some proclaiming that books are dead or dying. I don’t think that’s the case.

The written word, regardless of genre, can accomplish things that video and pictures cannot. In terms of jiu-jitsu instructionals, videos are great for demonstrating movement and for mimicking that personal delivery of information that we’ve become accustomed to on the mat. Video’s weakness, however, is its ability to organize and to synergize concepts and theory. When the discussion of idea becomes more lofty than a simple how-to, the edited and revised delivery of text makes it easier to present that information where a stumble in speech can muddle and confuse.

Again, not a new observation. Successful jiu-jitsu blogs like and the Jiu-Jitsu Laboratory have proven this notion to be true over and over again for years, and their popularity suggests that a mixed-media delivery of technical information resonates with jiu-jiteiros worldwide. Grapplers love short videos that explain technique, but they also love exploring the depth of their art.

Jiu-jitsu instructional books may be falling from favor now, but that fall won’t be permanent. The written word has not become weaker. In fact, more people are reading now than ever with the spread of smartphones and mobile devices. The container that we call a book and the way we’ll deliver will need to evolve, but books aren’t dead.

This is a challenge that I’ve spent some time exploring, and I think I have the solution. It’s much more complex than simple coupling video with text, which I’ve been doing with Artechoke in a Can and which many others have done before, but it’s also not terribly complex. I’m looking forward to sharing that solution with you this summer.

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