Are We Ready for Change?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

What Publishing Can Learn from Kodak

Part 3 of 3

The last two days we’ve been looking at things publishers, agents, and writers can learn from the decline of the Kodak company. Monday we discussed knowing our business, and yesterday we looked at knowing our customer. Today let’s talk about dealing with change. Here are a few more things I took from the Kodak situation.

7. The time is now (or three years ago) to begin changing and preparing for future more cataclysmic changes.

Kodak had a good ten-year window of opportunity to change their business—they had research and intelligence that predicted exactly how the market was going to change. They even stepped out to meet it—Kodak invented the digital camera, after all. But they failed to change enough. It’s not sufficient to be aware of coming changes. Our organizations must be taking action.

icebergWhat is action? It’s innovation. It’s turning the ship—and remembering that if you start turning it soon enough, it’s okay to turn slowly.

Writers and agents are fairly flexible, so many of us are already turning our ships. It’s harder for the big publishers, many of whom have never been known as “innovators” in the first place. They’ve been operating on the same business and product models for a century or more. It will be interesting to see which companies are able to turn their ships sufficiently to avoid disaster in the next decade. Are they hiring new leaders with vision, courage, and innovative thinking? Are they anticipating even more changes in technology, reader habits, and the bookseller landscape?

8. If we’re not flexible and open to change, our business will be overtaken by upstarts.

By the time Kodak had fully entered the digital realm, its business was already eaten up by new competitors with better products. It was too late for them to recover. They hadn’t been blindsided—they knew change was coming—they just moved too slowly, and not comprehensively enough.

If we don’t provide our customers what they want, somebody will. In publishing, it’s already happening as new companies start up with the goal of connecting writers directly with their readers quicker and cheaper. Other companies are filling the reader’s need for some kind of gatekeeping and review process (hello, Goodreads).

“The story of Kodak’s downfall is an affirmation that true innovative spirit is much more often found in smaller companies and startups rather than old-school behemoths of yesteryear.” (Mashable)

9. It’s crucial we stay well-informed on technology and consumer trends, and develop plans to effectively respond to the ever-changing information.

It’s two separate things: gathering information, and then effectively using the information. The former is pretty easy, the latter is harder and seems to be the crux of Kodak’s downfall. We should all be asking ourselves if we’re looking at both sides of this equation.

10. We must keep asking questions, and do our best to make sure we’re asking the right ones.

  • What is our core business? What do we do well? How do we need to change what we do?
  • What do consumers want? What will they want in the future?
  • Are we doing ENOUGH to keep up? Are we doing it quickly enough?
  • How can we harness our strengths to become innovators rather than simply trying to “keep up?”?

***

Like I said in the beginning, I’m not a business analyst and these last three posts have just been a simplistic look at what we in publishing can be taking away from the Kodak situation. I hope it’s enough to spark some commentary, ideas, and debate.

Some questions for you:

What are some ways writers and agents need to change their thinking and approach?

Do you think the “upstarts” could ever truly replace the Big 6 publishers?

What are some more questions we should be asking ourselves as we look at the future of our business?

Part 1: Do You Know What Business You’re In?

Part 2: Do You Know Your Customer?

Visit Rachelle’s personal blog here.

Sources: In researching the story on Kodak, I read articles from Forbes (here and here), CBS News, Information Week, Tech Crunch, and Mashable.

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12 Comments

  • Barnes and Noble was also slow getting out of gate with developing its Nook, allowing Amazon to get a strong hold on the market–enough so that they are considering splitting off their digital business. See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203513604577142481239801336.html?KEYWORDS=nook

    I truly believe all of us must think what will appeal to readers who want instant, easy access to books. One of the discussions I had lately was about buying directly from publishers versus Amazon. This digital publisher was wondering why people flock to Amazon instead of buying from their site. The overwhelming response was that Amazon has made it so easy by offering one-click buying and having the book automatically delivered to your Kindle. If I go to the publisher’s site or Smashwords, I have to go through a series of steps that wastes my precious time. Also, with people’s leisure time coming in smaller amounts, will novellas see a surge?

    The Big 6 have much to offer in terms of knowledge and understanding of the industry, but I think they can eventually fall behind if they don’t embrace the digital revolution. A challenge for the Big 6 is to offer competitive pricing for electronic books. I rarely buy a Kindle version that is over $5, yet many e-Books from best-selling authors are priced at $10 or above–some are even more expensive than the printed versions.

    One big question that sticks in my mind is–what’s next? What could be the next big technology product that changes how we do business? Now that there are so many e-Readers, how can that experience be enhanced? Will schools across the country embrace this technology and change the textbook market?

    Thanks for a wonderful series of posts, Rachelle. I’ve found this very interesting.

  • Thank you, Rachelle. This has been a great, thought-provoking series.

    1. What are some ways writers and agents need to change their thinking and approach?

    I think writers need to think about their audiences more. The points in part two about knowing our customers and what they want are right on the mark. I also think writers need to consider their relationship with that audience isn’t as cut-and-dried as it might appear.

    The day of throwing the work over the wall and letting the publisher sell it has gone away. Publishers (and agents) are now demanding that authors have a strong platform even before any book is considered. For many people who’ve been locked in a room with their word-processors, this might be a radical shift in thinking. A writer needs to consider opening channels early and building a following even before paid publication. This kind of social investment gets more difficult the longer we wait, so I believe it’s one of the ways writers need to change their thinking and approach.

    Agents, it seems to me, have a different problem — maintaining relevance in the rapidly changing marketplace. I’m not participating there, so my comments are largely speculation offered from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t have an agent, yet makes a nice living from his writing.

    While I don’t need an agent for my main publications, there are some things I would like to have an agent for. Representing my work in foreign markets, for example. Offering a flat rate, a la carte menu of services is another. The key element is offering the customer (that’s me, the writer — not the publisher) something of value, something that I lack the expertise and/or resource to do on my own. It seems clear that representing authors to the Bigs for cuts of smaller and smaller pies is a clear signal that something in that business needs to change.

    2. Do you think the “upstarts” could ever truly replace the Big 6 publishers?

    I think we need to have a clearer idea about what “replace” means. There’s also the issue with what will the Bigs offer to writers when the book stores become boutiques and access to the bookstore shelves gets cut out except for the few top sellers.

    I believe there are very lucrative new models for publication that do not involve shelf space, inventory, returns, shipping charges, or very high fixed overhead expenses. A savvy publisher will look at some of these new niche oriented models and begin laying the groundwork now for a world where hardcopy represents something beyond the value of the ink and paper, where the story has more meaning to the book owner than plot, character, and setting.

    So, yes. I believe there is room in the market for a nimble competitor to start nibbling away at the edges of the big table.

    3. What are some more questions we should be asking ourselves as we look at the future of our business?

    I think one useful technique is to reframe the questions.

    Rather than asking: What could we do differently?

    Ask: If the field didn’t exist today, what would we do to create it?

    Reason: Technology creates singularity opportunities. They can be disruptive to the status quo. That creates bubbles of opportunity to leapfrog the quo and create new status. Asking “If what I do didn’t exist, what would I do instead?” opens up the arena to consider what tasks to do, not just how to do the tasks we’ve always done differently.

    Rather than asking: What do our customers want?

    Ask: What would *I* want to buy?

    Reason: Looking at the inside out leads to a bit of echo-chamber thinking. Looking from the outside in, asking “If I were the customer, what would I be willing to pay for?” helps re-frame the discussion. One key to this is being realistic about what you would rationally buy.

    Rather than asking: What business am I in?

    Ask: What am I passionate about?

    Reason: It’s a lot easier to gather enthusiastic support for ideas that you are passionate about yourself. Moreover, that passion will keep you going even when things don’t look too promising.

    These sound kinda hippy-dippy, touchy-feely questions but they underscore some important realities.

    Thanks, again, for a thought-provoking series, Rachelle.

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    I just got caught up on your early posts this week. Fantastic series. After reading Kristen Lamb’s post on this same topic earlier this morning, I’m struck by the similarities. Since you’re both professionals I trust, I couldn’t help but nod.

    Common sense decisions are often the hardest for large companies to make. Thanks for sharing all of this information.

  • David Todd says:

    In the couple of classes I’ve attended about marketing engineering services, the speakers have used the same illustration. They bring out a drill and start talking about the differences in drills, and how you would market your drill as opposed to others. Eventually the teacher asks, “Why does someone buy a drill?” and he answers almost immediately, “Not because they need a drill, but because they need a hole.” What they fail to ask is “Why does someone need a hole?” It might be any of a dozen reasons.

    Big publishing thinks people want/need books. But they don’t need books. They need: entertainment, stories, escape, information, education, enlightenment, inspiration, motivation. The medium doesn’t matter. For this reason, anyone (a Big 6 publisher, a small publisher, an innovator) who can provide those things best to the different generations will be successful. The others will go the way of Kodak.

    How have I changed my way of thinking? I don’t want to publish a book. I want to influence people for Christ through my writing. To do that I string words together to help them be entertained with stories, informed with articles, enlightened or educated or inspired with appropriate words. I write mostly for the general market because that’s where most readers are. There I can’t do in-your-face Christianity, but have to underpin my writing with a Christian worldview. The medium doesn’t matter.

  • Absolutely terrific posts this week, Rachelle!

    Thinking outside the box is a key component of innovators. Embracing change is difficult, but resisting it by sticking our heads in the sand is a death knell. I believe “brainstorming” should become our new normal. Consider all the “crazy” ideas of the past that caused eyes to roll. Those are the very ideas that caused Titanics of industry to sink. Remember the huge discount chain that used to ride the top of the tidal wave? Interesting to note, it’s now in coasting mode. Still making tons of money and a force to be reckoned with, but they’re no longer the mega oceanliner they once were. Newer, brighter ships are setting sail with the very passengers that once swore allegiance to the “How may I help you?” influencer.

    Complacency and smugness will only accomplish two things: (1) Create false security and (2) Signal demise. Closed mindsets, refusal to face facts, and “but this is the way we’ve always done things” are dinosaurs of the past.

    One of the questions we should ask ourselves (and on a daily basis) is: How we can we better utilize the knowledge that brilliant minds have already harnessed?

  • Rachelle Gardner Rachelle Gardner says:

    Cheryl >> Thanks for the thoughtful note. Your comment about competitive pricing for e-books is interesting and it’s something I’ll blog about in future. Do we really want books devalued so much that nobody will pay more than $5 for them? Assuming you’re a writer, don’t you believe you should be paid a fair price for the talent, skill and hard work that goes in to writing your book? The push for lower priced e-books basically means you see the “value” mainly in the physical product – paper and ink – rather than the reading experience. Once there is no physical book to hold, you want the price to go down. But is that why people have always valued books – for the paper and ink? I don’t think so.

    Great point and worth more discussion!

  • Debbie Moorhouse says:

    I dunno. I keep being told the customer will get what they want, but I can hardly find a book I enjoy reading. Something’s wrong somewhere.

  • I agree with Cheryl’s assessment related to the cost of e-books. Despite the fact that I “value” books and the content they offer, I see little reason to pay the same amount for a Kindle edition as I do for the actual book.

    I do think that there will come a time when book prices won’t so much be based on the cost of publishing as the *perceived value* of the book… in other words, “what the market will bear”. And if the market won’t pay more than $0.99 per fiction novel, then it is what it is.

    I also think the novella, and serialized shorter fiction, is going to be rising in the ranks. People ARE busy and short on time, and we want something that’s quick and enjoyable.

    Like a TV show. Characters who engage us immediately, and then who we come to know over time, episode by episode. They become a part of our lives, a part of our vocabulary.

    I can see annual (or lifetime) subscriptions being sold for access to certain fictional series. Or non-fiction. Just like magazines today, except focused on the content of a single author that we enjoy.

    So many opportunities in this wild, wild frontier. Exciting!

  • As authors – we are in the entertainment business – our core job function is to engage and entertain our readers. If we keep this in mind our other functions will be geared to support that.

  • I’m with Cheryl on the price point. $10 for an ebook isn’t a price I’ll pay.

    The price per unit volume is not the value of my work to me as an author. It’s the size of the royalty check at the end of the month.

  • Thanks for your insights, Rachelle. I don’t see a lower price point as devaluing a book. As an author, I’m concerned there are too many cheaper and free options, and that it will make it harder for those traditionally published to attract new readers; especially debut authors. Granted there is a greater feeling of security in buying a book released by the Big 6 because of how difficult it is to break in, but if I am an out of work book lover what price point is attractive to me? In this market I might be willing to go for the $5 option to see if an author is worth reading.

    I look forward to exploring this more with you in the future.

  • I think I heard once that Ted Turner started his cable news empire after inheriting a bunch of radio stations.

    Yes, the upstarts could take over, but that all depends on who the upstarts are, how flexible they remain as the technology shifts and how asleep the big 6 are.

    As far as what agents can do, I like how you put it yesterday. Remember we’re not in the business of selling books, but stories. If we keep our mind open on how that story is delivered, it gives us many more options. With that perspective and an eye to the possibilities, we’ll be much better off.

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