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Publishers Must Adapt (Or Die)
If there’s one book I’d love to force everyone in the publishing industry — the media and music industries too — to read, it’s Adapt, by Tim Harford. One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in years, Adapt looks at how complex problems can’t be solved by relying on expert opinion, but must be tackled using trial and error. Not just a ‘fling mud at the wall and see what sticks’ kind of trial and error, though, but something smarter, where failure is survivable and success recognisable. In the journalism world, which is further down the road to destruction than book publishing, we see many examples of organisations that focus solely on radical cost containment as their attempt to balance teetering books. But when you look for radical innovation in editorial products and business models, well, that’s rare as hen’s teeth. In the music industry, innovation from the major players is largely absent. Instead, it’s the plucky start-ups and tech giants who have spotted new gaps in the market and figured out how to exploit them. So, whence the book publishing industry? Much of the visible work has been in author discovery, market testing and bundling. HarperCollins’ Authonomy is a community for budding writers from which the publisher can pluck the very best. Unbound is a market testing/crowdfunding site where authors with agents can submit a book idea and, if selected for the site, set a financial goal and gather pledges from readers. And Angry Robot’s Clonefiles gives buyers of their paper books free access to the ebook version. Whilst these are all good steps forward, they focus on incremental improvements of existing processes, rather than breaking new ground. Communities for budding writers have been around for years. There are plenty of crowdfunding sites that do it better than Unbound. And bundling ebooks with paper books is simply catching up with existing buyer expectations. What publishers need to be doing is disrupting their own business before someone else does. That means getting down and dirty with entirely new products, new thinking, new revenue streams, new business models. NEXT n .
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