If I were asked today to tell you my business philosophy, it would probably go something like this: "Untested assumptions block learning".
These untested assumptions show up in all kinds of ways:
- "Pirates are thieves"
- "Digital requires more work"
- "My roles and responsibilities will never change"
- "This is the business model that works"
The last one came to mind when I read Porter Anderson's excellent post, "What is a 'Literary Change Agent'? And what's 'ethical'?" It appeared on Publishing Perspectives earlier this month. Anderson, whose writing has taken on a variety of untested assumptions, profiles April Eberhardt, a literary agent developing a second option for authors she represents.
The first option, traditional representation, is well-understood. The second, in which Eberhardt's agency serves as a publishing consultant, charges authors for services provided but generally does not take a commission. Not surprisingly, both Eberhardt and some other firms experimenting with non-traditional models have taken some heat:
But the reaction to [a fee-based agency service] illustrates Eberhardt’s point about how difficult it can be to experiment with new models in an industry still badly torn between the imperative of innovation and the “rules” of tradition that long have structured its transactions. Emotions run high. Tempers are short. Restraint could be very helpful.
Anderson does not blindly defend a particular business model, but he does ask whether we might suspend disbelief for just a bit while we try to work out some alternatives. As I argued in "The opportunity in abundance":
[W]e also have to recognize that change will create winners and losers, even as we need continued support for the prevailing supply chain infrastructure. Figuring out how to migrate successfully will depend on inventing options that ultimately are based in agreements about what is fair. It will also require data that may challenge how we assign value to various roles in the new supply chain.
The entire publishing industry is small – $27 billion in publisher revenues, perhaps $40 billion in total consumer spending. Apple could buy the business three or four times over with just the cash it has on hand. Rather than fight about what business model gores my ox least, I'd like to recommend we all exercise a bit of restraint.