Category Archives: Leadership

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson

Entrepreneurship: Like Minds With Luke Johnson Photo credit: Adam Tinworth Flickr

Big business stifles creativity and innovation

At this year’s Like Minds Autumn Conference, I attended a talk by Luke Johnson @LukeJohnsonRCP chairman of Risk Capital Partners and a former chairman of Channel 4. Luke’s the guy who popularised Pizza Express, taking it from its origins as a fab and distinctive restaurant in Coptic Street (London) and turning it into a (sorry Luke) rather sterile but successful chain of 250 eateries.

Luke spoke from the heart and shared lots of stuff about what he’s done throughout his career, which he openly admits would have been harder to do without the benefit of education.

 A Spirit of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking 

In his talk, Luke emphasised the entrepreneurial values of independence, freedom, tenacity and risk-taking; qualities most often found in people who own their own businesses (for example amongst foreign nationals who do not have the required qualifications to enter mainstream employment in the UK) and not very often amongst the leaders of large enterprise who are “entombed in the cosy, airless coffin of big business” (quote from Luke’s article describing leaders of big business).

Whilst I found myself not always being able to agree with the large, sweeping over-generalisations Luke made about entrepreneurial qualities, his point about how large corporations kill employee motivation, personal drive, confidence and creativity did resonate closely with my own experience of corporate directorships.

Robots not mavericks 

His talk was peppered with references to the sorts of vacuous and uninspiring directorships I’ve held myself within large international corporations, be they UK, French or American. At their heart one major cause is responsible for the problem: large corporations that are not founder-run, very often replace humanity with robotic and sterile management, and become compressor machines that clone people and preclude the sort of maverick qualities businesses need.

Furthermore, large corporates are rarely anchored in community, they have no affinity with place, region or country and only seek to impose standardised work and culture models that emanate from their own home markets, which means they end up ignoring the local differences that make a business unique, innovative, creative, differentiated, appealing, genuine, personable and successful.

Sheep not shepherds 

The trouble with the big fat corp model is that it breaks everyone’s balls (excuse my French) and imposes a skill set that is closer to that of sheep than it is to that of shepherd, making every employee tow the line, and not innovate. This breeds leaders that lick the bosses proverbial “a”, and it suits people who, in their childhood, spent their lives doing what their parents expected of them because this, not being free-spirited and different, was the only way they could successfully gain their parents’ love. How sad it is that these people end up in positions of leadership, stifling the motivation and innovation of their staff.

Broader insights 

These are my own views and I am conscience that, not unlike that which I accused Luke of: making generalisations about leadership qualities, I am in danger of making similar sweeping generalisations about working for corporates, which stem only from my own personal view.

Anyway, Luke’s engaging talk struck a chord and resonated deeply with me, I am thankful to him for providing me with food-for-thought on my walk today on the wild, windy moor.

However, if we’re to avoid stereotyping good and bad leaders, innovative and sterile businesses, I’m keen we open up the discussion and aggregate the views of others, so please share an experience you’ve had of working for a big or small business, or perhaps owning your own.

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?

 

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready?

Where do publishers need to invest now to be future ready? Photo credit seanmcmenemy Flickr

I’ve been prompted by Korash Sanjideh, the Creative Industries iNET Broker, to think about a series of workshops that would strengthen the regions publishing brands and safeguard their future in the post digital age.

The Truth: Digital revenues will not be enough to compensate shortfalls 

Dan Franklin, Random House’s digital editor, says that the publishing industry is looking “into a void . . . heading into the unknown”.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, for most UK publishers revenue from their traditional revenue streams is tailing off and revenues from their lower priced digital products is not sufficient to compensate the shortfall in cash.

But publishing needn’t look into the void and a series of workshops that put the real dilemmas in publishing at the heart of the debate will help publishers be better informed and better equipped to refocus theirs businesses in the digital age.

Hence, a program of workshops designed to help publishers strengthen their businesses for the digital age will need to consider some of the following critical issues:

  1. The value chain. Has your position in the value chain been altered? Are the critical success factors that once defined you as pertinent as before? Are your specialist skills in editorial, print buying, time to market, content editing, content creation, manufacture, distribution and marketing as valuable as they once were? Read more on this question here
  2. Author needs. Are your authors or potential authors or subject experts still relying on you as an intermediary (connection to readers/users) or are they exploring their own direct relationships with readers via blogs and online social media? What bundles could you offer your authors to remain relevant?
  3. Content for social community. Beyond traditional authored content, what other ‘user generated content’ could you aggregate and leverage into your publishing model to provide discoverability for your online community of interest? This content needs to be relevant, social and sharable.
  4. Content affiliation. Which commercial stakeholders share content needs online? Are there any publishing partnerships to be forged with non-publishing companies seeking content for marketing and sales and to enhance their customers’ experience online? The budgets that brands are willing to spend on great content are significant and worth investigating. A high turnover of refreshed content is needed online.
  5. Relations with online distributors. How should you manage your relations with the large online distributors? How can you grow these relations whilst building direct-to-consumer relations?  Now that customers are identifiable, contactable and trackable online, publishers need to build their businesses around customer knowledge and proximity.

Cultural shift

Undoubtedly the biggest and most powerful change in publishing needs to be cultural. The cultural shift involves moving the focus in the business away from product (book or magazine) to consumer / reader.

From a focus on content to a focus on community 

So, if you’ve been a gardening publisher for 15 years, you need to reinvent yourself as the provider of gardening know-how, expertise and solutions to all stakeholders in the world of gardening.

Refocusing a publishing business in this way means no longer considering ones business to be publishing but rather to be a key player in the industry of gardening and building and maintaining a brand community around gardening. That means focusing the key assets (human, IP and technological) on the brand community development. The Harvard Business Review looks at getting brand community right in more detail.

Viewing the core activity through the lens of community is the route to longer life expectancy. Core transformation in the genes of the business creates a new and essential vibrancy that breaths new life into publishing teams, providing much needed vital energy and dynamism to build a stronger business future. I’ve reported on my own experience of driving and managing this kind transformation in publishing here

Publishing businesses that transition to community in this way will discover that they have many new revenue streams to embrace. It means that dependency on their eroding books sales vanishes and is replaced by a new range of opportunities.

Evolving the revenue drivers in publishing 

Andrew Davies, a friend and colleague at idio Platform provides a useful “ABCD revenue driver framework” which I’ve used on several occasions to help clients think through strategies for their publishing businesses. Briefly the framework looks like this:

Audience revenues: This category covers revenues that are a function of the audience size: purchase price and advertising and sponsorship revenues.

Brand revenues: This category denotes brand extensions such as events and new products in which the brand name is strong enough to develop new products in other categories. A publisher specialising in photography can develop, promote and manage photography field trips.

Content revenue: This is the opportunity for supplying the asset to other stakeholders. Magazines and book publishers can use their writers and their specialist knowledge to create branded content for other companies. Air France commissions Gallimard to do this in France.

Data revenue: As direct-to-consumer relationships increase, data becomes a more valuable asset for every publisher. This might be in the form of selling on marketing lists to interested brands, building insightful research from aggregate data, or selling through ancillary products to the current audience.

If I were to devise a program of workshops for publishers in the South West it would look something like this:

The focus would most likely be on implementation rather than idea generation because participants would need actionable takeaways.

My Approach

I would develop a list of possible topics  and invite publishers to whittle down the list to three or four core subjects to be the focus of deeper debate and exploration. The list would most likely include the following topics:

  • eBooks marketplace / impact
  • New publishing paradigm
  • Marketing and sales
  • Getting and making use of data
  • Exploring revenue streams
  • Exploring paid subscription services
  • Reuse and recycle content
  • Build partnerships with Key retailers
  • Online community management
  • Develop new distribution channels

Putting detail around the topic and asking businesses in the target group to rate the topic for relevance on a scale of 1 to 5 would help shape a program of workshops relevant to the needs of the target group.

What other topics would you expect to see on a workshop list of this kind?

 

The new rules of digital publishing

Perspectives for authors in the post digital age- welcome to disruption – a talk I gave to an international audience of cross-media professionals in March 2011. Inspirations for this talk were Simon Waldman, Seth Godin, Forrester and the talented entrepreneurs breaking with old models and pioneering the new rules of digital publishing.

Less is more: how a tighter focus can improve business bottom line in 2011

Less is more: a strategy for sustainable growth

A focus on core, not more

A recent post by Julie Urlaub, Founder and Managing Partner of Taiga Company, entitled “What is the Best Top Growth Strategy for 2011?”, got me thinking hard about what constitutes a viable growth strategy for businesses in 2011.

And, based on my own experience of combining efficiencies, cost reductions and rapid, tangible results, the most effective growth strategy I can see for business in 2011 is a an even greater focus on achieving “more from less”.

This might seem like an oxymoron but its not. Growth in tough times can only reasonably be achieved by divesting poor performing activity and focusing harder on core activity. So, for instance, if you’re a book publisher publishing into a multitude of categories (say gardening, cookery, art, motoring and several others), it’s vital you recognise the categories in which you make and can sustain the biggest growth. Viewed from this lens, a publisher’s core activity is not publishing but being profitable in verticals.

Focusing in this way makes sense because in tough economic times consumers make better informed purchases, push aside mediocrity and only spend scarce cash on the most essential, best value products. That means fewer pounds chasing an oversupplied market. Hence, every business must reduce waste and focus on core activity, to be leaner, meaner less wasteful and more profitable organisations. That’s an economic, social and environmental reality. Any business leader who fails to drive this change is negligent.

So, how and where do you start? Here is a framework that has served me well:

  1. Figure our what works best, use internal and external data to identify your best drivers: best categories, communities, brands
  2. Crunch the numbers, figure out where a category or community focus will beget fastest/ best growth, do the same for the divest categories
  3. The devil’s in the detail. Getting more from less is brave; it means unifying and concentrating resources around best communities, brands, channels, platforms, markets, teams. If not planned from the market opportunity up, it can result in chaos and loss.
  4. When you’ve figured out the plan, be ready to tell a story that rallies the troops behind a clearly articulated vision which shows where the growth will come from and how this future-proofs the business.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate, again and again, across every level of the business. Meet people collectively, individually, in teams to drive the message home and get the vision understood, shared, advocated.
  6. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities. This process is an aggressive reshuffle that puts the strongest people in the most influential roles.
  7. Everyone must be ready to stretch like elastic bands as the business adjusts and transitions. Night and day jobs will be the norm as teams start to implement the change. It’s leaderships role to ensure the resources are managed and the elastic fibre in the business does not overstretch and break. This is the hardest part and success relies on every individual person knowing exactly what is required of them. This relies on everyone having a granular understanding of their individual goals dovetail and join up with the bigger collective and team goals. The people closest to the customer groups need to be given autonomy and control to push and pull the levers of growth. Leadership must distribute leadership that cuts across departmental boundaries. People must be empowered to make business decisions.
  8. The plan needs to deliver on the planned “quick wins” which reward, empower and build successful teams.

Getting more from less in a world in which resources are scarce and globalisation is intensifying the need for sustainability is a very special achievement and it requires very special people to drive it. When performed properly, a focus on more from less benefits three bottom lines of Profit, Planet and People. Unfortunately, any rightsizing will result in lost positions and casualties, but this strategy that puts the interests of community and business first, re-energises those fortunate enough to stay in the organisation with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.

These are challenging times and I empathise with those leading transformational change in 2011.

About the author: Stephen Bateman advises a number of special interest publishers on their digital strategy. He is Director of Interactive Marketing for the 60 Mile Publishing Company and co-founder of iGlimpse Limited, a digital media startup serving the needs of outdoor enthusiasts. If you’d like to discuss how your special interest publishing business could improve its profitability, please contact us for an initial chat.

Rethink How You Do Everything: A Lesson From The National Trust

The National Trust: core transformation

The National Trust: reinventing core business

Confronting Change

Every business needs to confront change at some point along its cycle. Yet change isn’t simple and the fear of alienating core customers whilst trying to win new ones is a strategic dilemma that challenges every business and its leadership team.

No one gets out alive

Museums, charities, restaurants, pubs, hotels, attractions, clubs, broadcasters, cinemas, newspapers, magazines and book publishers (the list goes on), all need to align with new market forces in order to make their businesses emerge stronger and fitter in the future.

Tools

Managing change means managing a portfolio to ensure new and relevant products and services are being developed in time to satisfy emerging needs. The Boston Growth-Share Matrix helps us do that.

Relevance

The challenge for any business is being nimble enough and the danger is only doing what you’ve always done and expecting to satisfy new customers with new tastes by asking them to order from the old menu. They won’t enjoy their meal, they won’t come back and they won’t recommend.

Sign of the times

One conversation I’m hearing a lot in the media and publishing sector is the following:

“We want to find ways to make our business more engaging and lively online. If we do this, we can be more relevant and attract a more diverse audience of younger people who want to engage at a different level with our brand and help us grow. But our traditional customers don’t come for that. So, how can we find a way to be relevant to the new without alienating the old”

Audience development isn’t a series of concentric circles. You can’t start with the people you traditionally serve and build infinite circles of new customers outwards. Instead a business has to shift, and shifting means some people will leave as others join.

Customer segments

There’s no better way to understand this challenge than to sit down and analyse the personas that make up your existing and potential market. Good customer segmentation will help a business see whether it can reconcile the needs of an existing audience under one program or whether it needs to service each segment separately in order to grow and retain the traditional cash cows to ensure an effective and timely transition from old to new. It’s a juggling act that is not for the faint hearted. It’s also why change feels like the only constant: a business never stops changing and it needs to be one step ahead of the market to thrive. What is your business doing to stay ahead and thrive?

A lesson from the Trust

Although I’m writing about forces of change in the media industry,  I find it useful to view change and the way it is being implemented in other sectors. One current fascinating example is the UK’s National Trust.

The Trust has implemented a customer engagement strategy and is being savagely accused of ‘Disneyfication’. Its chairman, Sir Simon Jenkins, wants to make properties more accessible to the public by opening up roped-off areas, recreating historical scenes, lighting fires and getting rid of ‘do not touch’ signs that are the traditional demarcation lines of non-engagement in its 300 or more properties. His strategy is about making the customer experience more memorable and driving a higher level of engagement to provide a visitor experience that will help grow the Trust as an attraction and family outing and have new people visit more frequently whilst also encouraging their friends to join. Critics say this is ‘intellectual slumming’.

Rethink the way you do everything

But the Trust will have pondered the risks of alienating their 3.8 million core members long enough to know that the risks of inaction, and therefore not appealing to a new generation of consumers, is an even greater threat than change.

New initiatives, like giving velvet cloaks to visitors as they enter Hampton Court are, in the chief curator’s words, ‘for our very survival (…) we need to reach out to people who just aren’t interested in history.”

Naysayers complain that the “buildings are not meant to be welcoming”, calling the initiatives ‘infantile’, and accusing the Trust of ‘crossing the line into entertainment’ and being “patronising to the public.’

Parallels

Every business has a legacy. This is why I see parallels between the Trust and UK publishing. Like the Trust, UK publishing needs to trade a certain history for an uncertain future. Fear and habit make us protective of the core and, even if we know core customers are not likely to ensure long term viability and sustainability, we tend to hang on to them and allow them to run our businesses.

I’ve written about transformation before and practised it at many levels.

A solution for publishers might be to develop a “parallel” offer for new audiences instead of trying to entice them directly into the traditional “pipeline.” This is because square pegs don’t fit round holes and reaching new audiences usually works best with new approaches. If new approaches differ significantly from traditional practices, they may be more effective as standalone diversifications rather than extensions to the core.

Don’t change the core – re-invent it

The National Trust aren’t in fact choosing between one audience and the other. Instead they are leading a “parallel” strategy by offering participatory activities whilst preserving old labels and interpretative tools.  At some point the business will have to make a choice. It won’t always be able to afford to do the “and”. Effective portfolio management means juggling parallel offers long enough to get started with a new audience and, once you can show how this converts to sales, you will need to make informed decisions about divesting parts of the business that might no longer qualify as “core”.

Is your business trying to cut a new direction but having its efforts sabotaged by the old guard? If so, how are you handling the situation?

Like Minds: 6 ingredients for “total community engagement”

The secret ingredients of total community engagement

Like Minds Conference: The Ingredients of Total Community Engagement

After participating in the Like Minds Autumn 2010 conference, I was eager to share the experience of “total community engagement” provided by this unique and groundbreaking conference for cross-sector media professionals.

I hope my analysis does the Like Minds conference and its organisers all the justice they deserve.

Like Minds: 6 magic ingredients for total community engagement

Community: a focal point for core transformation in book publishing

Community: an opportunity for teams and their leaders

In these times of transformation, corporate attention tends to be on digital tools, platforms, dashboards, analytics, budgets, timeframes, business models, ROI and an inordinate amount of technical detail.

Our instinct seems to be that systems will solve all our woes. But leaders will tell you that successful change occurs when people in the business are “on the bus”. So why is it that conversations about digital transformation focus on systems first and people as an afterthought?

Think about it: in the new connected world, successful publishers rely more than ever on collaboration between the people on the inside (editors, community managers) and those on the outside (readers, authors, bloggers). People-passion is at the heart of community and, yet we fail to take the time to open it up and overhaul the moving parts.

Transitioning a traditional book publisher from a book-centric business to a community-centric business requires something special: leadership at every level of the business, regardless of job function; leadership instilled right across the workforce.

Meeting the needs of community is a collective game that requires the entire business to be outward facing. That scale of change means rethinking, resetting and re-configuring business practices and the roles of every employee. Core transformation is about refocusing the entire publishing activity to align with new goals, a larger playing field, new forms of distribution and marketing,  a bigger more aggressive competitor environment and the consumption and buying habits of a new generation of media consumers.

Setting the vision for this level of strategic leadership, and planning the operational outcomes is a job for leaders and their leadership teams. It starts at the top with a new vision for the business and it drives down to the teams who, in turn, take ownership of the vision and enact the changes needed to achieve the newly defined goals of the business. To ignore this process of resetting the business in its entirety is tantamount to suicide. Leaders not doing enough, not being rigorous and exacting enough in this process of core change and not moving fast enough to redefine the focus and practices of their business will fail their staff and fail their communities.

However, the leadership team can only go so far. Staff need to step up and seize the opportunities that are being presented to them and avoid hanging on to outmoded practices. The job of change is a collective process of immense learning and discovery.

For leaders and their teams, everything begins with an understanding of community and the new role and place of content within the new media environment. The good news is that, as publishers, we already have some of the most sociable and creative minds around, and this talent can easily be transitioned to the new media world. The focus across the business needs to adjust from being book-centric to people-centric.

For this, team members require a 360- degree pan optic view of the new media environment and their roles in it; only then can they truly start to engage with the breadth and length of opportunity that emerges from a community-centric publishing model.

Educating teams on the diminishing scarcity of expert content and, working alongside them, to expose ways in which the disruption is affecting the traditional publishing model garners a desire for action. This is why, when drawing on employee knowledge, leaders will see their teams quickly put forward initiatives that address the need to change business practices, job functions and collaborative workflows. Discussion will uncover new opportunity and business practices to make money from community. Everything the business does will begin to be viewed under a different angle: through the lens of community, not the lens of book making.

What changes in a team is seeing and accepting that we are no longer in the business of publishing books and, that challenged revenues must be replaced by other sources of revenue which are only possible with a community-centric business model.

Together, with our teams, we need to examine the dynamics of people and content, connect the dots between the two pillars of the business (content and people) and embrace audience marketing. We need our people, who have long been experts in very specific content domains, to fully appreciate the way digitally-empowered audiences consume, produce and circulate content and the initiatives that are required in our content and social commerce hub to attract and retain fellow enthusiasts, in community. That’s the 360-degree view our teams need to embrace in order to make a full contribution.

What needs to be done isn’t a mystery (I’ve written it before) and there are some key actions that can help accelerate the process of inoculation. Here are four suggestions from a repertoire I developed in my last corporate leadership role:

  • Set clear learning objectives: we are all students of business. We need to be constantly learning and improving. There is no room for passengers. Personal learning objectives put valuable focus and structure around learning and help employees learn on the job and apply that learning to work.
  • Establish collective learning teams: these are groups of people who are given a responsibility and opportunity to participate in a learning initiative together. These can be task or subject orientated. The group can be given a room and some time for group discussions to talk about ways they can improve their jobs and subsequent contribution to the business and they can report back on their progress.
  • Offer mentoring: change is a time of personal opportunity and as leaders at all levels in the business we can have the opportunity to take another member of the team under our wing and by means of coaching help them develop new skills and strengths.
  • Offer guidance, encouragement and feedback: in the current climate when financial reward is not possible, encouragement is a great incentive.  A constant stream of feedback, both corrective and reinforcing, is one of the best ways to develop employees. Without a clear and balanced understanding of what they are doing right and wrong, employees, like athletes, are unlikely to improve. That’s not good for the business and not good for the people in it.

Specialist book publishers, if they are to survive the post-digital age, need people who can see the reality of today and describe a brighter, more prosperous tomorrow; people who challenge the status quo and change everything. Those publishers who choose to behave like a swift-footed 2-toed flightless ratite bird will only know the consequences when it is too late.

Special interest publishers who bury their heads when they could be acting will only have themselves to blame

Positive signs for a bright future despite the decline in book retailing

Implementing change requires effort

After getting back from a long summer break and an extended digital fast, I was curious to know what changes and developments had occurred in publishing during my absence.

Three concurrent events helped me take stock of the current state of book publishing:

  1. The first was a wander through the book aisles of WH Smith in Exeter, which, as you might imagine, did little to provide me with a compulsive new vision for a brighter publishing future.
  2. The second event that captured my attention was a more compelling story from Michael Morpurgo’s on the creation of Penguin 75 years ago, on BBC R4. This was a more uplifting experience and a timely reminder that ideas and more ideas drive success in publishing.
  3. The third stimulus was the news on almost every industry blogger’s pages that Seth Godin pulled his ripcord and jettisoned his publisher Penguin in place of self-publishing. This, I pondered, might be the long awaited catalyst for change in our industry.

But what of these three events? Firstly, as you may have predicted if you know the stores, my amble down the aisles of WH Smith was not, as I mentioned, a trip through Publishing’s Gardens of Paradise. It felt more like a violent reminder of the biggest problem in book publishing today: swathes of poorly published titles stacked to the ceiling in lurid lollipop displays. Then, to add insult to injury, behind the floor-to-ceiling piles of “bestsellers”,  rack upon rack of poorly presented, slowly rotting backlist titles leaning in disarray on shelves that no self respecting shopper would care to browse.

How sad that the UK’s largest retail book chain has had such a detrimental effect on our publishing. Is it any wonder publishers see no alternative but to run headlong into poor list creation, snatching titles at auction that they can ill afford to pay for, just in order to jump on the bandwagon of celebrity publishing and try their luck at the lottery?

This type of distribution might work for the likes of the Guinness Book of World Records at Christmas but it’s questionable whether it works as the retail standard for publishing, 365 days a year? What lifebuoy can there be for an an industry as sick as this?  Is there any hope Tim Waterstone might buy back his flagship stores from HMV and restore sense and purpose to an ailing and butchered publishing and retail industry?

On a brighter note, Michael Morpurgo’s account of the creation of Penguin 75 years ago, on Radio 4, was a keen reminder of how successful book publishing is shaped by the initiatives of keen entrepreneurs who have vision and a sense of risk. The story on the radio happily coincide with a presentation Simon Jollands, my digital publishing partner, and I were giving about our new digitally enhanced e-book series. Our aim is to use high quality instructional content and compulsive functionality to bring engaging learning and interactivity to lifelong enthusiasts seeking to improve their proficiency in leisure pursuits (knots, gardening, golf etc..). Like Penguin, our series of digitally enhanced e-books fills the sort of gap Allen Lane spotted in the market as he was waiting for a train to take him from Exeter back to London. Like Allen, our aim is to supply a convenient and affordable series that revolutionises the existing.

Finally, news that Seth Godin has thrown down the gauntlet and decided to self publish was predictable but none the less exciting. I wholeheartedly endorse his decision to go independent and demonstrate new marketing practices. Sure, not all reputable authors are ready to follow but Seth’s insights into a failing industry and his leadership and teaching will spur many authors to move in that direction. With the right support, guidance and training, authors can successfully transition to an independent model. But happily, not all authors will feel a need to because some publisher (SIPs in the main) will themselves transition to provide the platform and the community for their to engage with their readers.

When Seth Godin addressed a group of independent publishers in May and shared his wisdom with them on the future role of special interest book publishing, he hit the proverbial nail on the head: the best way forward from here for niche publishers is curation, permission marketing and community leadership.

For me personally content curation of any sort is a victory. It reflects the way the industry is moving and it reinforces the change we, at Idio, are helping publishers and authors tool-up for.

On balance the barometer says book publishing is moving in the right direction. So let’s get on with it!

Publishers can no longer boondoggle

Beware of Being a Battersea

I was not surprised by the Bookseller’s leading story this morning reporting 8 of the top 10 publishers are experiencing a dramatic downturn in sales in in the first 24 weeks of 2010. Key takeaways were:

  • don’t attribute the downturn to the recession
  • the economic situation is only accelerating the problem not causing it
  • book sales will never likely recover again
  • most publishers over-publish for today’s market
  • competition for reader’s time is intensifying
  • publishing’s business practices are outmoded
  • coping is about lowering the cost of doing business
  • publishers need to get better at understanding consumer behaviour

What surprised me was the lack of advice – few things were said about initiatives that can be taken to lower the cost of doing business – my experience of change leadership dictates that a blend of the following is necessary:

  1. The downturn is a catalyst for change – use it to drive change at every level of the business
  2. Business needs new vision – if the current vision is no longer relevant – what vision is there? – who is on / off the bus – is it being communicated effectively?
  3. Improve your vision of profit drivers – ensure everyone understands the drivers and how they can contribute
  4. Restructure the business so that it has a newly articulated mission – the business needs to look “out” not in
  5. Put your best people on your biggest opportunities – move bums on seats to get new momentum and fresh initiatives in the business
  6. Create a culture of “initiative” not “fear” – recompense the bold
  7. Budget for failure – things are going to get a lot worse – don’t be meek – bring sales down then bring your costs down in line to preserve your margin and some headroom
  8. A clear business focus works best when you divest all non-core activity – you can always come back to it in more prosperous times
  9. Put technology at the heart of the company
  10. Promote (or recruit if you need to) a digital marketing expert to your board – they know how to lower the cost of reaching customers more cost – effectively using digital marketing
  11. Put time aside for redefining your business purpose and structure – no matter what you think the future is DIGITAL — how will your digital plans compensate for the downturn in print sales? match numbers to the vision
  12. Work fast and don’t waste time trying to preserve the existing – get advice from others

How a focus on community can help you leapfrog the competition

The power and purpose of community

This story is a testament to change and a focus on community.

I joined David & Charles (D&C) as Managing Director and Publisher in  August 2008. I was brought in for an interim period to refocus the business and inject new ideas.

D&C had been publishing niche hobby books for it’s club members  since the early days when the original owners, David St John Thomas and Charles Hadfield, were involved.

But, in an age of rapidly changing consumer expectation and new positive marketing options, the company needed new leadership and fresh ideas.

In a relatively short time following my appointment I made several key strategic decisions to re focus the core business activity and restructure the teams around customer segments which allowed the business to move forward on a new direction and, in particular, to concentrate on a significant number of new opportunities that clustered around building brand communities.

Building community is so important for niche publishers. The change in business thinking comes from considering yourself as a community rather than a publisher. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, newsletters, consumer offers and building an active community (engaging and communicating with those discussing your topics) are all critical to a shift in business practices. Giving authors a voice online and tweeting articles whilst publishing them on the community blog and wrapping them into a pdf for download or offering them as a Youtube video for promotion and viral canvassing are all highly effective ways of driving traffic, engagement and sales of physical or digital goods. Hence, in a very short space of time the company was breaking into new territory and leapfrogging the competition.

The key to success of such a transformation is recognising that change is inevitable and then planning for it and communicating the plans again and again with staff do drive organisational development.

There are many more great opportunities like this one in the new digital age and I am persuaded many other traditional media businesses will reappraise their core purpose and reinvent their business models to better focus on customers and serving community.

That, after all, is what we, as customers, expect: to be served and served better.