Preserving business models

Winters in Massachusetts are long enough and cold enough to pretty much guarantee you can find a place to skate for free. When I was growing up, one or more of our neighbors would pile up snow and flood a side yard, then coat it again most evenings after the kids had headed home to dinner, or bed.

Those surfaces were always accessible and seldom very smooth. When I was just learning to skate, my dad would walk down the block and watch me for a while. I’d hit a bump, or a rut, start to lose my balance and begin to flail. With luck, I’d right myself, but more often than not, I’d windmill myself into a fine mess and take a couple of friends down with me.

After watching me do this a few times, my father reached over the side of the rink, pulled me up and said, “When you start to fall, just fall. You may get hurt falling, but you’re going to get hurt a lot worse if you try to keep yourself from falling and don’t make it happen.”

It wasn’t always easy to fall. On bright days, the banks might melt and puddle on the rink, making the landing site a bit of a washing machine. On Crystal Lake, maybe a mile and a half from my house, ice shavings would pile up, not enough to cushion you but more than enough to slide inside gloves and jackets and skates.

Playing hockey, I fell a lot, but I grew to fall readily and to get back up again quickly. Although I fell out of a tree once (yes, I know; that explains a lot), I never got seriously hurt ice skating or playing hockey.

As the debate about delayed releases of digital content takes shape, I’ve come to see the work going on to shore up the business models as the publishing equivalent of windmilling. We’re putting a lot of work into preserving the old order, and maybe it will work. But focusing on preserving the trade model, rather than framing the discussion around readers, could also be setting us up for a collective and colossal failure.

Ongoing debates about piracy strike me similarly. I’ve not argued for piracy, but I have asked if it makes sense to fight unauthorized distribution without knowing if doing so helps or hurts paid content sales. If digital distribution helps sell content, why can’t we think of it as a marketing or distribution “expense”?

After BookExpo America, I wrote about developing a spirit of advocacy and inquiry around current and future publishing models. More recently, I posted about the pervasive effect of zombie business models. Fighting to preserve them is understandable, but it takes energy, resources and time we may not have. Sometimes, it makes better sense to just fall.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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