June 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
The book publishing world has been pummeled by one external disruptive force or another for the past 15 years. This time frame roughly corresponds with the growth of the internet in all of our lives. Whether it be online retailing, eBooks, globalization, consumer attention span, or discoverability, publishers have been in “react”mode for almost as long as most of us can remember.
In a recent blog post, Thad McIIroy presented some very interesting data about the employment decline in the sector over the past ten years being as high as 25%. Couple that with data that shows books sales as relatively flat and average book prices (unadjusted for inflation) having very little change over the past eight years, and it’s no wonder we are reacting! We are simply trying to survive!
I attend lots of book publishing events and one of the themes I notice this year is a bit of a “sigh of relief”. Publishers, in general, appear to believe that the majority of the disruptive forces are now at bay, and under control. They believe that they can get back to business as usual.
I’m worried about this attitude, because there is no such thing as “usual”. Smarter publishers recognize that while there might be a lull in disruption, it won’t last long. We don’t know what we don’t know yet, but we know this much: the world is on an innovative hot streak, and some not-yet-known innovation will likely put us back on our heels in a heartbeat – and probably sooner rather than later.
We all need to take the time afforded to us now during this lull period to disrupt ourselves; to set our own directions; make our own innovations. Essentially it’s time to move from reactive management to proactive management.
People in book publishing are among the most creative on the planet. It’s time for us to reinvent our own future, before someone reinvents it for (and/or takes it away from) us.
June 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
There has been a lot of good news in the bricks and mortar book retailing world lately. Numbers that just came out this morning show that April, 2016 was up almost 10% over April, 2015. It is great to see this resurgence!
But, also this week, we got the news about Hastings filing for Chapter 11. That news will certainly hit the retail numbers in months to come as Hastings winds down its operations. But, the real underbelly of this story is all the unsecured creditors (mainly publishers) who will most likely will need to write off a crippling amount of accounts receivable.
Is this an opportunity?
Is it possible that a consortia of unsecured creditors get together and propose that they take over Hastings operations?
Publishers have long been looking for other channels, and ways to feel closer to their customers. If the publishers that will be affected by the demise of Hastings got together and collectively double-downed on an experiment, it could be very enlightening, and could act as a catalyst for some of the profound changes that are still necessary for book publishing in the future.
Just a thought.
June 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
I was quite impressed by this years annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses in Boston last week. 787 attendees from 300 companies participated in a 2+ day long forum that covered everything from advocacy and international expansion to the technical production details related to ebooks.
If I had to choose single word to describe the overall “vibe” of this event, it would be resilience. Pummeled by challenges like no other sector in book publishing, University Presses have weathered the storm, and seem determined and optimistic about embarking on a new chapter in their history.
Everyone at the conference seemed interested in learning from the experience of others and taking stock in what was really important in their work. University Presses collectively know that their scholarly publications are important to the legacy of this generation. They understand that they need to regain relevance with their parent institutions, and need to partner with academic libraries in order to give their work the best exposure.
It seems as though in the time between this years event and last years event, the entire group of 132 publishers has come to consensus on what their collective mission is, and they are prepared to take on that mission.
Peter Berkery, the new Executive Director of AAUP, could not have asked for a better moment to come on board. Given this new shot of leadership energy and the sense of strength and resilience I felt from the publishers at the meeting, I’m very bullish on this future of this group, and look forward to a strong future.
My kudos go to the program committee, and the AAUP leadership for putting on such an invigorating event.
July 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
I was on vacation when I learned the news that my colleague and friend, Don Linn, was moving on to become the President of the Chicago Distribution Center. My immediate reaction was very complicated. I wasn’t at all surprised that Don was moving on to another full time position, but I was shocked by his destination. The emotional dimensions were even a bit more complex: saddened, sure, but mostly excited for him, and even more excited for my friends at the CDC and for the university press community that use the CDC’s services.
I am extremely excited that Don has found a position that will challenge and engage him in ways he hasn’t been challenged or engaged in quite a while. Don is a man of many talents, with a wide variety of experiences. Every one of those past experiences will be a great help to him in his new position. In many ways, Firebrand Associates was founded to showcase those talents, and yet, we never really accomplished that goal. So, I am very pleased that Don has found a new venue.
Don takes over a mantel with a formidable legacy. The previous President of the Chicago Distribution Center, Don Collins, was another man with a unique personal style and many talents. Since I have been lucky enough to call both of these gentlemen friends over the years, I’m sure that many in the CDC community will be curious about my opinions, and to them I will say this: after much reflection, I don’t think a better choice could have been made. Don Linn is not Don Collins, and Don Collins is not Don Linn. Their differences are immediately apparent, but they have several attributes in common:
- they are both enormously caring people; caring for their colleagues, their friends, and the publishing industry.
- they are both incredibly smart, and have a penchant for understanding bottom line impacts of actions and decisions.
- both men are “straight shooters”, and are willing to defend their positions even when they may seem controversial.
- both keep an eye on the future and are generally ahead of most when it comes to understanding the implications of new technologies on publishing.
- neither man is afraid to get his hands dirty. Sometimes the only way to understand an issue is to dive into the detail.
As should be obvious by now, I have tremendous respect for both Don and Don. As I mentioned before, I believe this to be a “win” for Don Linn, a “win” for the employees and clients of CDC, and a big “win” for the University of Chicago Press. Kudos to Garrett Kiely for his brilliant choice!
May 29, 2012 § 3 Comments
One of the more interesting sessions coming up at the Firebrand Community Conference in September is going to be a discussion of the new skills required by publishers as the internet converges as both the platform and fulfillment mechanism for books and reading.
There are many aspects to this topic. What new skills does everyone in the organization need to acquire? What skills are required of everyone entering publishing today? Do we need a new vocabulary? Do we need new processes? What things do “digital natives” inherently understand that those of us who came to the business before e-mail arrived don’t quite get?
In this disruptive time, publishers are being asked to fundamentally change the way they produce and market every product. The shift is massive for publishers, moving from where essentially business-to-business companies to business-to-consumer companies, both because they can, and because leaving it to “middle-men” is no longer having the desired effects.
What do you think? What skills do you think you need to compete in today’s job market? What disciplines and new habits are you currently working on to be the best you can be?
For me personally, there are some old challenges that take on a new twist, and some new challenges that require iterative tweaking. Many of mine are not related to books, but just to the generally escalating speed of communication and the need for immediacy in so many things. Some of the old challenges are:
- Managing my time – I think I’ve been working on this since I entered the workforce many years ago, but now its different. As my roles have changed the demands on my time have increased dramatically. Moving from a “do-er” to a “manager – do-er” to a “manager” causes different time management challenges. Every day there seem to be new tools and software, and retaining a single discipline over a long period of time seems nearly impossible.
- Managing email – I’m one of those people who entered the workforce when email was only a theory on a whiteboard. Now my inbox can carry upwards of 600 messages a day. Learning to triage, and making time to triage is a constant challenge. I highly recommend Inbox Zero as a way to help, but it is still a constant challenge.
- Understanding how and how much to engage in social media and which social media. I’ve been all over the map on this one, and it’s still a constant challenge. I am amazed at how well some people work their social media presence and have used it to elevate their own personal standing, yet it takes a fair amount of time to get it right.
Some of my newer challenges relate to understanding how other people, especially younger ones, naturally think about things and communicate with each other. Trying to understand and engage in social media is part of this. However, there is also no denying that the traits that were important in the products and services we offer when I was selling them, are different now that median age of the customer we engage has declined.
What are your challenges?
April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Most people in senior management arrive based on some outstanding qualities that elevated them among their peers. It is rightly expected that those qualities will be the cornerstone of how that person will perform in the future.
But, what if the industry pivots on you, and you find that you need to know more about an aspect of your business than you ever thought possible? Very few senior people are secure enough to say, “Help!”. After all, wasn’t it their knowledge and skills that got them there in the first place? Shouldn’t they be omniscient (or at least appear that way to the people who work for them)?
Some will try to “pick it up as they go along”. Others, will quite frankly, fake it. Others still find people in their organizations they trust who can backup their knowledge deficiencies. But, at some point there is no getting around the fact that you need to at least have a working knowledge in order to get by.
The most common – and commonly accepted skill deficit – is financial acumen. Hence for many years, there have been courses available like “Finance for the non-Financial Manager”. But, in the world of publishing today, there are two areas where many senior managers are lacking, and where significant opportunities abound: technology, and production. In the current publishing evolution, knowledge of these areas of the business is no longer a “nice to have” skill, it is a necessity.
The publishing world is pivoting on technology and production to the point where these areas are no longer just cost centers but the basis from which a publisher can most efficiently position his products in the marketplace. Technology and production are no longer just tools of the publisher, they are (or can be) it’s weapon in the battle for growth and profitability.
As a senior manager, you owe it to yourself and your company to become more knowledgable in these areas. Seek out trusted advisors who can help you get the knowledge you need, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or dive into the details.
As you seek your path to understanding, bear in mind the following questions:
1. What are the latest innovations in technology and production for publishers?
2. How can I leverage these in my business?
3. What are the capabilities of my own team, and what new skills do they need?
4. How will utilizing the latest innovation affect the way we bring products to market?
Learning any new skill requires learning the terms, and understanding the concepts. However, as a senior manager, you must also keep your eye on the big picture, and continue to run your business. The ever changing landscape of publishing requires that we all work hard and understand new things. Taking on this task of learning about areas that you never needed to know about will set an example for your entire organization and make you a more respected leader.
February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Let’s face it. Being a publisher today is a much different thing than it was even five years ago. Virtually every aspect of the publishing process, from the time a work is selected for publication until a consumer is reading a finished version, has been affected by new technologies.
Just to name a few innovations from recent history that come to the front of mind when thinking about all this change:
- Centralized distribution – eliminating the warehouse freed financial and intellectual capital that could be put into content publication
- Short Run Digital Printing – changed the way composition was done, and made us rethink print runs
- Print On Demand – made us rethink inventory strategy
- Title Management systems – have become almost as essential to publishers as order processing systems used to be.
- Electronic metadata feeds – puts our marketing messages on ecommerce sites
- Ecommerce web sites – radically changed the way books are sold
- Electronic catalogs – made life easier for retail buyers
- Electronic galleys – have helped expand the opportunities to create a buzz about individual titles
- Social Media – has created unprecedented opportunities and challenges in how to market titles
- Search Engine Optimization – changed the way customers discover your content
- An explosion of new reading devices and content formats
The point is that in the face of all of this change, most companies have taken each innovation on, one at a time, and layered new processes on top of their old processes while waiting for things to “shake out”. Some things have shaken out, but others won’t ever. Some of the changes are temporary and others permanent. Yet, most publishers still have all of the layered processes in place. This often leads to a redundancy of effort, and a frustrated work force.
The most progressive publishers we see are those that have an ongoing endeavor to constantly review their internal operational processes and eliminate the layers wherever possible. The CEO or COO usually chairs internal review committees – a group that meets regularly to review the processes in place in individual departments – and holds them up to the new realities of the day.
These publishers understand that in order to compete in today’s market, the efficiency of which products move through the editorial, production, marketing, publicity, and sales departments is critical to their survival. There is no longer the luxury of having artificial boundaries between these groups. Everyone needs to be on board and work together. In order for that to happen, each group needs to be constantly re-educated in what it means to be a publisher, and that can only come from the people at the top of the organization who own that overall vision.
So, join the vanguard! Publishing is much different than it was five years ago, and it will be much different five years from now. Constantly reviewing your internal approach is the only way to incorporate all of the challenges that lie ahead.