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.
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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.
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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.
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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.