A seat at the table

Last month, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that it had successfully negotiated a new, five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between owners and major-league players.

Given both baseball’s history (there was a debilitating strike in 1994 that ended the season early and saw no World Series played) and the recent lock-outs of both football and basketball players, the MLB agreement was developed with little fanfare or apparent rancor.

That is to say, little rancor until the deal was announced. Among the subsequent reactions: “The new CBA is terrible“, particularly in the way it treats amateur baseball players; and the new agreement is “full of unintended consequences“, many of them detrimental to the long-term health of baseball.

A post largely sympathetic to the new agreement captured the central argument of these and other reviews: the CBA shifts money away from those not at the table, notably in the farm systems, and favors those already represented.

In October, I made the argument that the publishing supply chain had evolved from “complicated” but predictable to “complex” and increasingly prone to the impact of unintended consequences. I went on to reference Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler, both of the Boston Consulting Group, who had written:

Increasingly, industry structure is better characterized as competing webs or ecosystems of codependent companies than as a handful of competitors producing similar goods and services and working on a stable, distant and transactional basis with their suppliers and customers. In such an environment advantage will follow to those companies that can create effective strategies at the network or system level.

The network includes the farm system, and the publishing equivalent of the farm system may well be libraries.

When it comes time to negotiate new supply-chain rules (and if you hadn’t noticed, that is happening every week now), it is easy to forget the farm system. The rancor evident in reactions to publishers’ decisions to limit or eliminate the ability of libraries to distribute digital books is a sign that the new rules are being negotiated in a relative vacuum.

As in baseball, forgetting to offer or even denying the farm system a seat at the table may simplify life in the short term and erode demand and competitiveness in the long term. I can’t prove it just yet, as the data on the full impact of libraries is scarce and incomplete.

But I certainly would want the data before denying libraries a role in the supply chain. Getting that data starts by giving them a seat at the table.

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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