Disruptive Innovation

New publishing trends reshaping reading

30 January 2015

From The Chicago Tribune:

In November, a pair of technology journalists issued the latest in what seems to be a constant stream of announcements proclaiming the start of a book publishing revolution. First, co-authors Jason Hiner and Lyndsey Gilpin said they would crowdfund their project, asking individuals to donate toward a $10,000 goal in exchange for free tote bags, book copies and, for $500, a chance to chat with the authors by phone.

. . . .

“Books have barely been touched by the digital revolution,” Hiner says in a video on the authors’ Indiegogo crowdfunding site. The publishing industry moves slowly. The technology world Gilpin and Hiner are writing about moves quickly. In the gap, anything a book says can be canceled by simple forward momentum while the author waits for the presses to roll.

Compared to what has happened in the music and newspaper industries, digital technologies are fueling more evolution than revolution in book publishing. But change is well under way, starting with the dizzying rise in self-publishing, the rapid growth of all-you-can-read book subscription services, a surge in crowdfunded publishing, and the growth of the e-book.

Mark Coker’s company, Smashwords, owes its existence to e-publishing. Coker launched it after a novel about the soap opera business he co-authored with his wife, Lesleyann Coker, left publishers cold.

“The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got,” Coker says. Publishers told his agent that “Boob Tube” was a dud because soap-opera-based books always flopped. That’s what the record showed. But Coker wondered how much publishers really knew. “The vast majority of their books fail,” he says. “The dirty secret of the publishing industry is, at the end of the day, they’re really just throwing spaghetti against the wall.”

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

The Death of Music Sales

27 January 2015

From The Atlantic:

CDs are dead.

That doesn’t seem like such a controversial statement. Maybe it should be. The music business sold 141 million CDs in the U.S. last year. That’s more than the combined number of tickets sold to the most popular movies in 2014 (Guardians) and 2013 (Iron Man 3). So “dead,” in this familiar construction, isn’t the same as zero. It’s more like a commonly accepted short-cut for a formerly popular thing is now withering at a commercially meaningful rate.

And if CDs are truly dead, then digital music sales are lying in the adjacent grave. Both categories are down double-digits in the last year, with iTunes sales diving at least 13 percent.

. . . .

The recorded music industry is being eaten, not by one simple digital revolution, but rather by revolutions inside of revolutions, mouths inside of mouths, Alien-style. Digitization and illegal downloads kicked it all off. MP3 players and iTunes liquified the album. That was enough to send recorded music’s profits cascading. But today the disruption is being disrupted: Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs. Now that music is superabundant, the business (beyond selling subscriptions to music sites) thrives only where scarcity can be manufactured—in concert halls, where there are only so many seats, or in advertising, where one song or band can anchor a branding campaign.

Nearly every number in Nielsen’s 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales.

. . . .

 The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn about 80 percent of all revenue from recorded music . . . . But the market for streamed music is not so concentrated. The ten most-popular songs accounted for just shy of 2 percent of all streams in 2013 and 2014.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Publishers Know You Didn’t Finish “The Goldfinch” — Here’s What That Means For The Future Of Books

22 January 2015

From Buzzfeed:

Millions may have held their suspicions, but last month the Canadian e-reader company Kobo confirmed it: Most people who buy The Goldfinch don’t actually finish it. According to the company’s data, less than half of Canadian and British Kobo readers in 2014 made it to the end of Donna Tartt’s behemoth novel, one of the best-selling of the year.

How did Kobo know this? Like every e-reader and reading-app maker today, the company, a subsidiary of the Japanese e-commerce titan Rakuten, has access to a comprehensive suite of data about the reading behavior of its users. In a white paper titled “Publishing in the Era of Big Data” and released this fall, the company announced that “with the onset of digital reading … it is now possible to know how a customer engages with the book itself — what books were left unopened, which were read to the very last word and how quickly.” In other words, if you read books digitally, the people who serve you those books more than likely know just what kind of reader you are, and just how little effort you made with Infinite Jest.

The paper was a rare peek into the nascent world of reader engagement analytics, which have been a staple of web publishing but which the big legacy book publishers have been slow to embrace. It was fascinating, not just for the insights it offered into reading behavior (Did you know the industry standard finish rate for mystery books is 62%? Now you do!) but because the enormous corporations — Amazon and Apple — that know the most about how you read are ferociously silent about that knowledge. Both Apple and Amazon declined to comment for this piece.

. . . .

In a leery New York Review of Books blog post, titled “They’re Watching What You Read,” the novelist Francine Prose wrote, “…writers (and their editors) could soon be facing meetings in which the marketing department informs them that 82 percent of readers lost interest in their memoir on page 272. And if they want to be published in the future, whatever happens on that page should never be repeated.”

. . . .

It’s true that engagement analytics pose a highly abstract threat to a certain idealized kind of furrowed-brow, human-and-their-word-processor, Great Novel writing and reading, as well as to those people whose livelihoods and self-images are invested in that ideal. (“Excuse me, Mr. Joyce, you’re losing a lot of Kindle Fire readers here in this third section. Maybe tighten it up a smidge?”) But it’s also true that most books released by the declining publishing industry are hardlyWar and Peace, that so far these numbers have played almost no role in editing and acquisitions in the publishing industry, that they have far greater implications for marketers than they do for writers and editors, and that the companies making the most significant use of engagement analytics aren’t traditional publishing houses, but startups.

According to Claudia Ballard, a book agent with William Morris Endeavor, there is still only one salient number when it comes to the books that get picked up.

“The truth of the matter is people have been picking up books and not finishing them for a long time,” Ballard told BuzzFeed News. “At the end of the day, a unit sold is still a unit sold.”

Link to the rest at Buzzfeed and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Rise of The Backlist

16 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The new year hadn’t even had a week to catch its breath before the first year-end numbers for 2014 appeared. The definitive numbers—if you can call any numbers “definitive” in traditional publishing—won’t show up until late February or early March. But the early numbers reveal quite a bit.

. . . .

I often find Publishers Marketplace’s analysis of the publishing industry useful, not because it’s accurate, but because it gives me a fairly clear snapshot of what the traditional industry’s thoughts on the business are. Publishers Marketplace’s focus on traditional means that it misses a lot of the trends and changes that happen because of indie.

. . . .

Nielsen Bookscan reported that print book sales—in the outlets that report to Bookscan—went up 2.4% in 2014 over sales from 2013. Half of the gain in sales—1.2%—came from a better-than-expected holiday season.

In that first week, Publishers Marketplace went deeper into the numbers than Publishers Weekly did and came out with some fascinating information, some of which I’ll deal with in the next week or two. But here’s the take-away:

All of the year’s gains and then some came from backlist, however, not newly-released titles. Frontlist unit sales fell 2 million units to 276 million, while backlist sales rose 17 million units to 359 million…

Those of us who’ve been publishing indie have known how powerful the backlist is since 2010. Fortunately for most of us early adapters, the traditional publishing industry didn’t get the memo for about three years. They started to get a clue in 2013 that there was wine in those dusty old bottles, which is why it’s become harder and harder to get rights reverted from traditional publishers in the past couple of years.

. . . .

Traditional publishers still don’t have a complete clue about the importance of the rise of the backlist, as evidenced by this comment from Publishers Marketplace:

[backlist sales rose]…reflecting the lack of new breakout hits…

Sorry, Publishers Marketplace, no. The backlist rose because the industry is changing. The way books are being sold everywhere, not just online, is changing. Readers are changing.

Well, actually, readers are staying the same. They want “what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price” to quote Kevin Spacey on the lessons Netflix learned from House of Cards.

Readers have always wanted that. But traditional publishing, like all other media in the 20th century, was based on the scarcity model: if you make readers hunger for a book, they’ll pay more when they see one. They also buy it immediately, and they’ll be grateful for what’s offered, rather than buy what they like.

The internet broke the scarcity model.

. . . .

Because the entire traditional publishing business is based on the scarcity model, Publishers Marketplace can’t understand the rise of the backlist. The rise doesn’t fit into the scarcity model.

Here’s the logic of the situation when looked at from the scarcity model: if people are buying “old” books, then the new books aren’t satisfying. The new books aren’t “good.”

That analysis was true-ish before backlist was constantly available. I say true-ish because, remember, not a lot of “old” books were available—just the ones that readers would keep recommending to their friends, so publishers couldn’t take those books out of print.

Back then, breakout books happened for two reasons: First, the books stayed on the shelves long enough to get word of mouth; and second, the books dominated the conversation.

It’s almost impossible to dominate the conversation now. Traditional publishing doesn’t control every book that makes its way into the media now. One book might get some traction, but definitely not all of the traction.

And the conversation moves faster as well. We might discuss Book A today, but tomorrow we could be discussing Book J. Or not discussing any traditionally published book at all.

. . . .

My dollars are finite, just like yours are, but book-buying dollars are not. Now that more books are available to more people, book sales should—logically—go up.

And they are. But they are going up outside of the traditional models. At least 20,000 of my ebook sales in 2014 did not get counted by any traditional measure—Bookscan or otherwise. I say “at least” because I don’t know if Smashwords sales count toward Bookscan numbers or if some of the other ebook sites (like Kobo) count as well. I do know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble ebook sales get counted.

So there is a shadow industry. There always has been. Even Bookscan itself says that it only covers 80% of the print book business. That’s up, by the way, from the old days, when Bookscan was less than 50%. There’s a lot of give in that 20%. And that’s in the traditional industry.

There’s even more give when you consider indie publishing. A lot of indie writers publish their print books without an ISBN, so the books don’t get tracked by traditional means. I suspect Bookscan covers 80% of the traditional market, but in all of trade publishing? I think that Bookscan misses a lot of books. How many? I have no idea. I doubt anyone does.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books


You Can’t Keep a Good Book Down: Finding Success in Today’s Publishing Landscape

12 January 2015

From The Huffington Post:

Joni Evans has been in the publishing industry for over four decades, representing bestselling authors during her time at the William Morris Agency and serving as President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster and Publisher at Random House.

. . . .

Janice Sands (JS): Throughout the course of your career in publishing you’ve seen a lot of changes to the industry and made your own adaptations to the digital world. What do you see as the future of the industry 10 or 20 years into the future?

Joni Evans (JE): It’s hard enough predicting a year or two from now; unsure I can speak to 10 or 20. The thing is, the book has not changed. The words have not changed. But the form in which they come – the vessel they come in – has changed dramatically with the digital revolution. I presume that revolution will be complete in less than 5 years. Yes, there will always be the paper book – coffee table books, physical books for gifts and for those who love the feel of turning pages – but overwhelmingly, we will retrieve and read online the way the music audience now receives its music. Our hardcover books will be the CDs of the future.

Do you remember how many years ago You’ve Got Mail, the Nora Ephron film, came out? 1998! That movie, of course, described the potential demise of the independent bookstore. Now, 15 years later, we are seeing the demise of book chains. Certainly paper, print and binding will increasingly become a thing of the past.

JS: What are the biggest challenges facing the publishing world right now? In other words, what keeps you – and your friends in the industry – up at night?

JE: Well, the sea change means a new way of life for the publishing industry. It is being fully disintermediated. Books read in electronic form have major advantages, as well as disadvantages. We all know (or should) that fighting with Amazon is ultimately a losing battle. Technology continues to progress and lower prices for the consumer is king (which I predict the courts will uphold). Prices are down, and that means less revenue for traditional publishers to pay their authors and their editors. We’ve already seen the consolidation of Penguin and Random House, and most others will follow. Authors and agents are no longer able to command the huge advances they once received and publishing staff have been laid off. Similar to the newspaper industry, this consolidation is obviously what keeps the industry up at night.

. . . .

JS: What advice would you like to give to emerging or mid-career writers?

JE: I have always believed that you can’t keep a good book down. If the author has real talent, the book will find its way, no matter what the format.

JS: In your experience, what is the common denominator shared by successful working authors?

JE: Talent. Talent. And talent.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post and thanks to David for the tip.

Five Digital Publishing Questions for Marcello Vena

23 December 2014

From Digital Book World:

What do you think has been the most newsworthy event for authors in the past year around publishing and digital change?

There was a lot of big news. The Amazon-Hachette dispute was certainly the most debated. Subscription services were another hot topic, as was the acquisition of Harlequin by HarperCollins.

But to me the most noteworthy event was the launch of the Fire Phone. As e-commerce is turning into ‘m-commerce,’ it’s clear that e-commerce leaders need to have compelling mobile strategies. Only Amazon could possibly deem it feasible to launch its own smartphone, seven years after the launch of the first iPhone. We should take for granted they were prepared for the flop (though perhaps not such a big one), and therefore we should not see it as a total failure. Amazon is gaining valuable experience and will not make the same mistake twice. Be ready for a second attempt within the next twelve to eighteen months. M-commerce is bound to stay; just wait for the Moore’s Law to kick in and see what happen to the prices of smartphones in two to four years.

. . . .

What is the most important thing publishers need to accomplish in 2015?

The same thing as every year: to stay relevant and healthy in a rapidly evolving environment. Publishers must do whatever it take–including reinventing themselves, hiring outsiders, investing in new media–to be the best players at serving authors and readers by putting them in touch as much as possible. Books (in any format) are just one of the very many touch-points between authors and readers. Just waiting for the end of the digital tsunami is wishful thinking. It cannot be stopped; it can only be surfed on.

. . . .

Are there any companies (start-up or otherwise) now flying below the radar that you think may break out in 2015?

Amazon itself is full of internal start-ups and experiments. As CEO Jeff Bezos says, the company invests billions of dollars in failures (and not just in the book business, of course). I would not be surprised if the next big thing is Amazon disrupting parts of itself. The age of business-as-usual is over. Change is the only constant. The most successful players will be those who prove best at continuously changing the business over and over.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

And to answer your question, Marcello Vena is a media and publishing consultant.

Reading in the Age of Amazon

18 December 2014

From The Verge:

Chris Green holds an envelope. At least, it looks like an envelope. In reality, it’s a piece of office copy paper that’s been cut and folded into the shape of a Kindle Voyage, the latest in Amazon’s bestselling line of e-readers. Green, the head industrial designer at Lab126, the secret lab where Kindles are designed, unfolds the paper to show it has been stuffed with everything that makes a Kindle: a CPU, a modem, a battery.

Green is a boyish sort, and he hands me his fragile bundle of electronics with a certain glee, but the most important thing in his hands is actually the paper itself. For Amazon, paper is more than a material for making prototypes. It’s the inspiration for the Kindle of the future: a weightless object that lasts more or less forever and is readable in any light. “Paper is the gold standard,” Green says. “We’re striving to hit that. And we’re taking legitimate steps year over year to get there.”

. . . .

Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we’re still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon’s success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It’s wild — and it’s coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.

. . . .

It’s been a decade since “Fiona” was first imagined, the codename Amazon gave to the first iteration of the Kindle. As recounted in The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s rollicking 2013 history of Amazon, Jeff Bezos commanded his deputies in 2004 to build the world’s best e-reader lest Apple or Google beat them to it. To Steve Kessel, who was put in charge of running the company’s digital business, Bezos reportedly said: “I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”

It took three years for Kindle to come to market. The first model wasn’t particularly beautiful: a $400, off-white chunk of plastic with a full QWERTY keyboard. But before the world had ever heard of an app store, Amazon had integrated its bookstore directly into the device. For the first time, you could summon almost any book you could think of within seconds, no matter where you were.

The initial, never-quantified run of devices sold out in five and a half hours, and soon Kindle became synonymous with e-reading. Amazon has never released sales figures for the Kindle, but analysts believe the company has sold more than 80 million of them, and Morgan Stanley estimated the devices would generate revenues of $5 billion this year. (Amazon declined to comment on sales figures.)

. . . .

“When you’re reading, you want to fall down the rabbit hole,” says Green, a native of northern England who came to Amazon after eight years with Bay Area creative consultancy Frog Design. Amazon has actually built a rabbit hole, of sorts: a reading room somewhere at Lab126, stuffed with comfortable chairs, where pinhole cameras study the way people really read. (Because test subjects are in there using prototype devices, I am not allowed inside.)

It’s in this room that Amazon learned people switch hands on a book roughly every two minutes, even though in surveys they claimed not to. (This is why the Voyage has identical page-turn buttons on both left and right.) The Voyage’s page-forward button is much bigger than page-back, because Amazon’s data showed 80 percent of all page flips are forward. As Green describes research like this, it seems likely that Amazon has spent more time studying the physical act of reading than any company before it.

. . . .

From the start, Amazon has defined its hardware mission narrowly: to build devices that disappear in the hand, with uniquely useful features, for a low price. “We would never make a gold thing, because that’s too distracting,” Green says. “There are many companies that create pieces of jewelry. We’re not going to do that, because that’s an added cost that takes away from the actual content.”

. . . .

There’s another dimension to the future of reading, beyond how we read. It’s what we read: who writes it, who publishes it, how it gets distributed. Nowhere are more important decisions being made about those issues than at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. With physical bookstores in a state of seemingly perpetual decline, Amazon has achieved a dominant position: the company sells 40 percent of all new books in the United States, and two-thirds of ebooks.

On one hand, that represents less than 10 percent of Amazon’s overall sales. But even as the company has pursued its dream of becoming a place to buy anything, books have retained an outsized place in the corporate imagination. “Books are home for us,” says Russ Grandinetti, senior vice president of Kindle content. “It’s where we started. Not only is it a great business that we like, and many customers know us for, but it’s something about which we have a passion. A lot of us on the team are personally passionate about books. Books changed our lives.”

. . . .

The rise of self-publishing, which Amazon has heavily promoted, has led to an explosion of genre fiction. Kindle Singles, which allow authors to sell work of medium lengths, has become a home for projects no traditional publisher would consider. Cable TV, YouTube, and Netflix created avenues for new kinds of visual storytelling, and new ways to make money; the elimination of gatekeepers in the world of books is doing the same for text.

“Technologies change, and then what people make with them changes,” Grandinetti says. He points to the way cable allowed for both Breaking Bad, which told a single story over 62 episodes; and True Detective, a multi-season series that tells a complete story each year. “Nobody would take a chance on those TV shows 10 years ago, because the model didn’t exist. So even though the evolution of these media may taketh away in some places, it giveth in some others. And I think the same may be true in books.”

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.

President Pranab Mukherjee’s book triggers online-offline war

4 December 2014

From The Times of India:

It’s one of the most anticipated books of the year. But you won’t find it displayed in bookstores. President Pranab Mukherjee’s The Dramatic Decade: The Indira Gandhi Years goes on sale on December 11, his birthday next Thursday. But the sale will be exclusively online, that too on one website, for a window of 21 days. Only after that, you may be able to stroll over to your local bookstore to pick up a copy.

The exclusive deal between the publisher, Rupa and the seller, Amazon.in, has caused outrage and heartburn among brick-and-mortar bookstores, who are terming it as unfair and monopolistic. Some are planning to boycott the Indian publisher, while others have shot off emails registering their protest.

. . . .

E-commerce has seen a dramatic growth in India in the recent past. A recent study by Google estimates India’s e-commerce market to be worth $15 billion by 2016. Against the 8 million Indian online shoppers from 2012, this year saw the number rise to 35 million, according to the study, which projects the number to reach 100 million by 2016. Consumers have been seduced by easy accessibility and heavy discounts.

“It is an ongoing battle, and it will continue. It will tilt on the side with more muscle. It makes logistical sense for the publisher in terms of distribution. In such deals, the website typically assures the publishers of a minimum number of sales, which reduces risk for them. As for vendors, it brings them new customers,” explains Mayank Dhingra, who formerly ran an online and phone book-delivery service Dial-a-Book.

Bookstore owners, however, have a different view. Anuj Bahri of Bahrisons Bookstore is in favour of boycotting Rupa. “It is the biggest book of the year. Their policies cut out our trade. People come to us to browse, and say, ‘Oh it’s a damn good book, I’ll buy it online’. We can’t give the 40% discounts that online retailers give. And a bookstore is a bookstore. What does it matter if its online or offline?” says Bahri.

Link to the rest at The Times of India and thanks to Gargi for the tip.

To Gain the Upper Hand, Amazon Disrupts Itself

2 December 2014

From The New York Times:

Sometime last summer, a quarter-billion dollars went missing at Amazon.

Analysts were expecting the usual gangbusters third quarter. But it was about $250 million short of forecasts.

Here is one way to look at the disappointing results: Amazon, for all its heft, is starting to lose momentum. It was rejected by some customers who were put off by its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette over e-books, while others found its prices less compelling than they once were.

But few things about the retailer are ever clear-cut, so here is another interpretation: Amazon is intentionally cannibalizing some major product lines — offering free or nearly free music, video and e-books — to draw tens of millions of people into its ecosystem.

Far from being weak, Amazon in this view is so strong that it is disrupting not only other retailers but also itself, knowingly and eagerly, as it seeks to leverage its powerful e-commerce operation to become a retail and entertainment colossus. It wants to sell devices, entertainment and services as well as basics like milk and toilet paper.

“Everything you buy, starting with your weekly groceries, will be flowing through one pipe called Amazon,” said Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “They’ll have your credit card purchase history, be able to do data-mining on your needs, offer massive selection with a reputation for low prices.”

. . . .

 “I don’t think they want to own a piece of retail,” Mr. Galloway said. “They want to own all of it.”

. . . .

If Amazon means that prices are now higher than they were, that is something Brian A. Rosenwald knows all about.

A doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Virginia who needs to stretch his entertainment dollars, Mr. Rosenwald likes to buy hardcover mysteries so he can pass them on to his father. He has noticed his Amazon discount shrinking. Two years ago he paid $14.01 for the new volume by John Sandford in his Prey series. This year’s volume was released in the spring with a publisher’s list price of $1 more than the earlier volume. It never got lower than $17.32.

So Mr. Rosenwald is cutting back. Last year, he bought 17 printed novels from Amazon. So far this year he has bought three. “I’m shifting to buying more very lower-dollar digital items instead of more expensive physical items,” he said. “Even then, I’m almost entirely buying during sales.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

When the Forces of Disruption Hit Home

1 December 2014

From The New York Times:

I’ve been around long enough to have once marveled at the improbability of the fax machine — that can’t be real! — but I like to think of myself as modern. Which should mean that I’m a big fan of disruption, but that depends on who is being disrupted, doesn’t it?

I read on Friday that the price of taxi medallions in New York City had fallen about 17 percent, a drop created by competition from ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The impact is remarkable because neither company possesses big capital assets, or a huge number of employees. Instead, they put a new user interface over cars and drivers already on the road. In the same way, Airbnb has remade the rental markets, not by buying properties, but simply by surfacing available units on the web to people in need.

In both cases, inefficiency was reduced by using software and smarts to create a new market of underused assets — and consumers have benefited.

. . . .

I work in an industry that has also been profoundly disrupted. The shift of news and information to the Internet meant that the heavy investment in trucks and presses that once served as a barrier to entry disappeared. Insurgents flooded in with new approaches that eliminated much of the inefficiency and created whole new streams of content. Again, great for consumers, not so great for the traditional news industry, because those inefficiencies were also profits by another name.

Right now, The New York Times is in the middle of a round of buyouts in an effort to cut 100 positions, to stretch existing revenue over a smaller cost base. The packages are generous — three weeks of salary for every year worked for union employees — and those who have been at the newspaper for at least 20 years are eligible for an additional payout of 35 percent of the total severance.

. . . .

At The Orange County Register, which has struggled through layoffs and misguided expansions, the delivery of the newspaper was interrupted after the company failed to pay The Los Angeles Times for the service. In November, reporters and other employees at The Register were asked to field phone calls from irate customers who didn’t receive their papers, as part of a “We Care” initiative. And, as my colleague Christine Haughney pointed out, employees who made 20 calls over two days became eligible to win “four Maine lobsters, fresh steamers and New England clam chowder.”

Now that’s some mighty disruptive thinking: Instead of hiring people to take care of customers, why not entice other employees to do it, and pay them in crustacean instead of cold cash?

It gets even more difficult to believe. Reporters are also among those now being asked to, um, deliver the newspaper.

People willing to rise early and deliver the paper on critical days would receive not cash, but gift cards.

“A full route — which averages about 500-600 newspapers — earns $150 in Visa gift cards,” a company memo read, adding, “as a novice, sorting papers and delivering a route typically requires between 3-6 hours to complete.” The memo then suggested that employees bring “a companion to help toss papers and navigate the route.”

Link to the rest at New York Times and thanks to Hugh for the tip.

PG says disruptive innovation can change any industry profoundly.



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