From The Bookseller:
Publishing is risky. It takes years to write, produce and market a book with only slim chance of success. Instead of racing up the bestseller charts, most books are on a fast track to the high street discounter.
Traditionally, publishers have mitigated risk with professional expertise – commissioning editors with rockstar author contacts, sales reps with a track record of smashed sales targets, booksellers with local market knowledge, and reviewers with the power to make or break a title. But in the age of Amazon these experts are being edged out.
Technology has disintermediated publishing, but tech startups, as well as disrupting the established ways of working, can offer alternative ways of working.
. . . .
In The Startup Way, Eric Ries – author of The Lean Startup and a champion of lean product development – shows how conventional businesses can implement approaches used by startups. His case study about publishing sparked my interest and got me asking: why a publisher was chosen to represent the old, established ways of working? And why, in a book crammed full of named businesses, this is the only anonymous example? Ries wrote:
‘In the past, the publisher didn’t seek out much of any feedback from test groups or from author communities. “Beforehand we kind of just trusted ourselves,” explained the executive. “We trusted our individual biases and the hubris that we actually knew more than the customer.” But as the publishing market has shifted … the company has had to pivot to adapt to the buyer’s habits.’
All power to our plucky publisher who set out to disrupt ‘everything’ in the traditional publishing process. Our anon executive took startup methodology to heart, creating a feedback loop, so that book buyers’ opinions were integrated into the publishing cycle. Their approach strikes horror into every publisher I know: they tested an entire manuscript – once the book was already in production!
It’s such a late stage to get user feedback – once the book has been written, edited, typeset, the cover designed, the sales and marketing planned – all those people and processes, a huge investment of time and money to find out if anyone is interested in reading it.
Book production resembles the much derided ‘waterfall’ development, which takes a linear, step by step approach to building software. It can lead to a sunk cost, where we continue forward on a path because we’ve gone so far down it. This approach can become the norm for a sector, baked into the way we do things, and is why publishing is an all too easy straw man for Ries.
. . . .
Testing takes courage and in a long production cycle there might not be time, but it improves products and decreases the risk of failure. There are three principles of testing to bear in mind:
- Test early
- Test often
- Test with end users
Testing early saves time and money as you validate decisions earlier, and testing often enables you to ‘iterate’ and improve so you keep going in the right direction. It also builds a habit of testing, creating smaller feedback loops within a production cycle, so when you make changes they are less disruptive.
Link to the rest at The Bookseller
PG suggests that an ebook has an inherently shorter development and production cycle than a printed book (under current publishing practices).
He thinks a better business approach for a publisher would be to create and release the ebook first to test the market for the book. If readers were drawn to the ebook in sufficient quantities, then the publisher could invest in a printed version of the book.
An intermediate step between the ebook and rolling big presses overseas is print-on-demand or short-run printing. Short run could be used to further test the market to see if a large print run were justified.
Publishers’ marketing departments would require a substantial upgrade to do something other than large country-by-country releases to all bookstores in a country.
All of this would require a significant retooling in most traditional publishers with a big upgrade in the quality and skills of publishers’ manufacturing management departments.
Doing away with bookstores’ right to return unsold copies would also improve the management of print books. At a minimum, if a bookstore wanted to participate in early short-run book releases, it would have to do away with its right to return printed books.
Ideally, publishers would evolve past the idea that big stacks of books in bookstores are ideal advertising and marketing tools. PG suggests that most potential book purchasers are more likely to learn about new books online or via word-of-mouth rather than walking into bookstores. This will be even more true when Barnes & Noble finally files for Chapter 11 relief.