Publishing Management: The Next Generation

January 17, 2012 § 3 Comments

We’ve heard a lot about the need for publishers to “re-skill” (what a terrible word!) their staffs to be able to take on the challenges of the digital age. Project managers, coders, enhanced ebook designers, app-makers, game designers, SEO experts, transmedia people, and other non-traditional publishing personnel are being added to meet needs the business has never faced before. This is a good thing both in terms of new talent and in helping to shift internal cultures.

We would, however, propose that another kind of re-skilling is necessary at many (if not most) publishing houses in preparation for the future. That is training in basic management skills. Without casting aspersions on anyone at any publisher, we’ve noted in our work with clients that many individuals, particularly those in middle and junior management roles, lack many of the basic tools needed to be effective managers. This shortcoming can become a real weakness as they rise to more senior positions. The lack of these skills is the result of several factors:

  • First, not a lot of freshly-minted business majors and MBA’s enter publishing since compensation levels are generally low relative to alternate career paths. Most liberal arts majors don’t get a lot of exposure to business skills before they’re thrust into the fray. An MBA is not a prerequisite for being a good business person, but a bit of knowledge is;
  • Second, career paths for senior managers in publishing have often run through the editorial or sales side of the business with only brief stopovers (if any) in other parts of the company. While this makes sense (as those areas are the key drivers to a publisher’s success), it doesn’t necessarily prepare the individual for running bigger groups or the entire enterprise;
  • Finally, with several years of  budget and staff cuts, even the minimal amount of training that might have been provided in the past has been largely eliminated.

We believe that most publishers would more than recoup an investment in providing basic training for rising managers in fundamental business disciplines such as Business Strategy, Accounting and Finance, Sales and Marketing, Organizational Development, Human Resource Management, and Business Communication. A few hours a month on each of these topics (and/or others the individual publisher believes need more focus in her organization) could have a disproportionately large impact on the short and long term health of the company.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re certainly not suggesting turning creative people into “Suits”  or McKinsey consultants, and we know what can happen when the bean counters take control of a creative enterprise. We do, however, feel strongly that good management will be at least as important as technical skills for those publishers who survive and prosper going forward.

§ 3 Responses to Publishing Management: The Next Generation

  • Bob Mayer says:

    Coming out of a background in Special Forces, I made the big mistake of thinking people in publishing knew what they were doing. After all, they were the experts. Twenty years later, I regret that assumption. There are a ton of great people, who know a lot about books, but they know very little about fundamental leadership and teamwork. This goes across the board. For several years, I’ve had an open challenge to any publisher or agent to display their formal training program for new authors they sign. Not one has done so. The first thing we did when a new team member arrived was give them our extensive team Standing Operating Procedure so they could get quickly up to speed on how things work. I wonder if there are SOPs for editors, managers, publicity, etc at publishing houses? Or is all learn on the job? Very inefficient.
    I’ve gone into Fortune 100 corporations and small start-ups with basic leadership and team-building classes and the results have been astounding. I think publishers need to rethink not just their configuration, but their training.

    • ftoolan says:

      Bob, that is a very insightful comment, and is really “phase II” of Don’s proposal. Relatively few publishers (or companies of any type really) take training seriously. To Don’s point, everyone in the organization needs some kind of introduction to the basics of business management, and once they reach a certain management level, that business management training needs to be intensified.

      Your point about individual role training is a very good one that dovetails with what I hope will be the subject of many posts on this blog: publisher workflow. It is my belief that for a publisher to be adaptable in this age of digital disruption, that they examine and re-tool their “SOPs” when it comes to how they get books out the door.

  • […] has of getting to a point without clearing an offended roomful or two of readers, he points out in Publishing Management: The Next Generation – at Firebrand Associates’ welcome new “From the Whiteboard” series of posts […]

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