In an e-mail conversation that started on a private list, I wrote the following to support a point of view offered by O'Reilly Media's Andrew Savikas, who encouraged me to share it here, as well.
As part of a course I teach for NYU's M.S. in publishing program, I ask the students to read a March 2005 article from Harvard Business Review, "Lean consumption" by James Womack and Daniel Jones (reprints are available, if it strikes a chord). The lead states in part:
"By minimizing customers' time and effort and delivering exactly what they want, when and where they want it, companies can reap huge benefits."
The articles offers six principles of lean consumption, the first of which is: "Solve the customer's problem completely by insuring that all of the goods and services work, and work together" and the last of which is: "Continually aggregate solutions to reduce the customer's time and hassle".
When I ask the students (most of whom are a few years or more out of college and currently working in book or magazine publishing) how these principles apply to publishing firms, they have always started by what doesn't work. The discussions about how many read print newspapers, the value of online classified advertising, interoperability and portability of ebook formats and the consumer perspective on digital rights management (DRM) are particularly fun.
This isn't to say that some magazine and book publishers aren't doing this now, and most or all of the students see ways in which publishers can more effectively take control of the content consumption part of the value chain. They also see the share of market gained by early movers, often not classically seen as publishers, who have aggregated content solutions successfully over the last decade.
The discussions are a sobering reminder of the disruptive innovations affecting our content businesses, but they also offer hope that a generation still committed to publishing can take the opportunities inherent in disruption and make them their own.