Home » Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation, Ebooks » Innovation is in the blood

Innovation is in the blood

16 April 2014

From FutureBook:

If there was one dominant theme coming of out the London Book Fair last week it was of an industry taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath and working out what comes next. At Digital Minds, the author Nick Harkaway said that publishers liked to reach a plateau and then wait for the next innovation to run them down.

. . . .

There isn’t a conversation I have with anyone in publishing these days that isn’t prefaced by a worried shrug, or a slightly nervous glance over the shoulder. Publishing is in confident mood right now, but that confidence is based on some brittle assumptions: that digital continues to not disrupt, and that physical book retail does not close down. Take either of those two pillars away, and all this talk of an orderly transition to digital, will vanish as quickly as a drunken tweet.

The question of what comes next, and how much we can influence that should now be foremost in our minds. Speaking at Digital Minds, Faber’s Stephen Page said it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.

. . . .

Publishing’s other great problem is that its core product isn’t broke. What have we really found out from five years of Kindle? Readers like reading. And generally they like reading in an environment unencumbered by music, video and animation. If publishers don’t feel like their products are going out of fashion, how can we expect them to change them.

. . . .

Publishers innovate constantly but much of it occurs in niche areas, away from the glare of social media. Show me a reader in demand of a new way of reading, and I’ll show you six publishers trying to meet that demand. Show me a publisher innovating and I’ll show you six technologists explaining why they are wrong.

Link to the rest at FutureBook

Big Publishing’s inability to engage in meaningful innovation was encapsulated for PG in, “. . . it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months.”

If you’re afraid to lose money, you’ll never do serious innovation. If you think real innovation can happen on a six month time-table, you really don’t understand innovation.

This is a reflection of a classic bean-counter mentality which may be well-suited for optimizing revenue and profit in a stable business environment but practically guarantees the business will be roadkill during a period of change.

The book business is not in stasis and won’t be for awhile. Organizations that do well in a period of disruptive change are typically lead by people who are willing to bet the company on a great new idea. Jeff Bezos has done this over and over with Amazon.

And as for “taking a pause, drawing in a big deep breath,” PG doesn’t expect Amazon to do that any time soon.

Big Publishing has all the wrong people in management positions and probably can’t do anything about it.

Big Publishing, Disruptive Innovation, Ebooks

13 Comments to “Innovation is in the blood”

  1. Newspapers are in the same situation, and have been ever since they became monopolies.

  2. will vanish as quickly as a drunken tweet.

    Encapsulates how little they understand social media. Those things go viral…
    Declaring publishers have innovation in their blood makes about as much sense as a duck in cardboard underpants.

  3. Well said, PG. :)

  4. “Hold up … innovation is in the blood? Then I guess we should continue to keep shooting ourselves in the foot!”

  5. “…it was difficult to lock a group of employees in a room (away from the wider business) and ask them to lose money for six months” is such a weird way to phrase that. I have a hard time understanding the organizational culture that gives rise to that claim. Is employee compensation tied to short-term business unit results so tightly that it was asking them to take a financial hit? Is upward mobility determined by short-term results? Or does the speaker have someone breathing down his neck insisting that all business units show a profit in the short-term. Or are they incapable of making ROI calculations that involve risk?

    • Will, I think the difficulty was in figuring out how many bags of dogfood to leave in the room with them.

      It’s like that old saying; ‘If you put a hundred monkeys in a room with a hundred typewriters, sooner or later you’re gonna have a room full of dead monkeys and I’m not gonna clean those walls, mister…

    • Or does the speaker have someone breathing down his neck insisting that all business units show a profit in the short-term[?]

      Yes to the second-to-last question. There’s a C-level person talking about innovation in the all-hands employee meeting so that he/she (but probably he) can check the box that indicates he paid it lip service. But all he’s really thinking about is his bonus and how tough a time he’ll have when he has to go up in front of the Board.

      Everything else is just Powerpoint animation, toothless brand repositioning, and new logos.

  6. …but that confidence is based on some brittle assumptions: that digital continues to not disrupt…

    So, digital hasn’t been disrupting all this time? Really? That’s a whole new order of clueless, way beyond head in the sand.

  7. “Publishing’s other great problem is that its core product isn’t broke(sic). What have we really found out from five years of Kindle? Readers like reading. And generally they like reading in an environment unencumbered by music, video and animation. If publishers don’t feel like their products are going out of fashion, how can we expect them to change them.”

    Except that writing books isn’t up to publishing. Books are an *author’s* core product. Publishers just help bring books to market. Publishing’s biggest problem is the increasing number of moneymaking authors moving to indie/hybrid, and the large numbers of authors making serious (and less serious) money way outside Big Publishing’s ecosystem.

    “Show me a publisher innovating and I’ll show you …” any number of savvy indies. ;)

    • Exactly this. The only time I see publishers not worrying about the changing landscape of genre literature is when they’re talking about books as their product.

      Later in the article the author states:

      There is sometimes a whiff of this in the innovation debate that surrounds publishing. Publishers innovate constantly but much of it occurs in niche areas, away from the glare of social media. Show me a reader in demand of a new way of reading, and I’ll show you six publishers trying to meet that demand. Show me a publisher innovating and I’ll show you six technologists explaining why they are wrong.

      This completely misses the issue, and does so it as glaring a fashion as I’ve seen of late. The issue isn’t that the “ways of reading” are changing, because other than transitioning from physical to electronic as the medium of choice they’re not, it’s that they as an industry are losing their leverage over authors.

      The reader doesn’t, usually, care about the back-end details of how their favorite book came to be. All they care is that it did. Authors though do care. It directly influences their bottom line. Before ebooks and easy-to-use ebook markets the publisher was a critical link in the supply chain between author and reader. Now? Technology has relegated them to niche product (physical books), and is threatening to replace them entirely (POD).

      They can’t maintain a position of dominance like they’ve grown accustomed to when the industry is busy routing around them. That’s the basic fact here, and everything else is simply white noise. If the digital revolutions of music and video has taught us anything it’s that the legacy “gatekeepers” rarely, if ever, survive in their current forms. Publishing, or rather storytelling, is no different.

  8. It’s occurred to me that I, Julia Robb, am the final answer to publishers who believe they have nothing to worry about.

    I used to go to the local library twice a week, on average, and/or a bookstore.

    When I went to the library a few days ago, the employee at the check-out desk said “We haven’t seen you for a long time.”

    Right. I have a kindle. Why should I get into the car and drive someplace when I can pick up my kindle and get what I want in less than 60 seconds.

    Case closed.

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