If you’ve read the boiling frog story you’ll know it’s a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive.
The premise is that when a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water, then slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.
The story is often used to demonstrate how a major change, if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments, can be accepted as the normal situation.
I first came across the metaphor when reading Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason (1988). Of course, despite the theme of change leadership, there is no mention of the internet as the disruptor, since it wasn’t envisaged when the book was written.
I suppose the modern equivalent of Charles Handy’s book would be Simon Waldman’s Creative Disruption (2010).
The Reality: Penguin A Victim of Trade Publishing
How many of you noticed the comments about Trade Publishing in Pearson’s latest interim management statement on 28 April 2011?
“After a particularly strong 2010, we expect Penguin to perform in line with the overall consumer publishing industry this year, while we continue to adapt the business to significant industry change driven by the growth of both digital sales channels and digital books and by the resulting pressures on physical bookstores.”
Penguin is a well managed company which can afford the best brains and the best advisors. But is the company adapting fast enough to change? The leadership team would, I believe, say “no” to that question. That’s because, like most other publishers, they didn’t move fast enough early enough. They thought about it. But, like the frog in the slowly heating pan of water, they were the casualties of creeping normalcy.
Elsewhere, The View is Grey and Ashen
If you’re a book publisher (especially if you’re an under-resourced, slow-to-get-it, stuck-in-the-mud publisher), the landscape outside looks ghastly and, depending on your strategy, it’s potentially as dismal as the one in Cormack McCarthy’s The Road: Grey, Ashen and Terrifying.
Things In Your Field Of Vision
This is what you see:
1. Downward spiraling sales of UK fiction, decreasing by 8.8% in the first 3 month of 2011 with sales of Non-Fiction in similar decline with only food and drink books showing any resilience (largely because these sales are linked to premium TV or celebrity brands)
2. Waterstones (HMV) struggling to keep book shops open.
3. British Bookshops and Stationers in receivership.
4. Further on the horizon and across the pond, you will have spotted Borders, the second largest bricks ‘n mortar book retailer in the US, going into bankruptcy.
5. More terrifying still, you will notice the leading chain, Barnes & Noble, switching to non-book product and merchandise that is more resilient to digital alternatives.
6. Here at home, you can feel the unabated downward pressure on book prices as frugal, cash-poor households turn to their local libraries and charity shops for their children’s books, novels, gardening titles and travel guides. The charity shops in Exeter, incidentally, are creating some excellent window displays from the increasing numbers of books donated by families who see no value in keeping books for a the next generation who prefer to read on electronic devices.
7. Wherever you look you see Apple, Google and Amazon driving change (read Simon Waldman’s book to understand this better). These digital heavyweights have first mover advantage in eCommerce, customer relations management (CRM), digital marketing, one click-purchase and they manufacture and sell their own bespoke reading devices. They are the platform for self-published authors.
8. Once again, looking out over the pond, you see the first signs of bestselling self- authors without any previous or current affiliation to a publishing house leading communities of their own.
9. YOU SEE DISINTERMEDIATION. YOU SEE THE LANDSCAPE BEING REDRAWN.
What you fail to see is how fast a new breed of digital consumer’s are opting for convenience and simplicity and flocking in droves to Smart Phones, Tablets and eBooks.
Publishing is cooked.
Many new players will be quicker at identifying the gap and responding. Barriers between magazines, books and video will blur and community will be the new Commercial Opportunity. Publishers will need to turn their businesses inside out, occupy niches, develop communities, embrace new digital skills, new methods of creating, curating and managing content and new styles of sales and marketing practices, with community at the centre point.
In my next post I will explain where I see the opportunity for the future of publishing. In the meantime, leave a comment or a look at the posts I’ve written in the category Business Models or Community about how best to adjust to the change, align with the digital online market to future proof your business.