Harder by the day

In November I started to outline how the ideas in my Books in Browsers presentation, “The Opportunity in Abundance”, might be applied to the prevailing publishing supply chain.

It can be an intricate argument to make. We’re accustomed to evolving the rules of the road in a series of “two-party, one-issue” negotiations. The established rules, valid not that long ago, worked reasonably well in static or at least stable systems.

Now, supply-chain roles are blending, with customers starting to look like suppliers, partners and even competitors. We’ve entered an era in which abundance, fueled by lower barriers to entry in a digital era, makes it possible for anyone to take on non-traditional activities.

These changes can feel like a gold rush or a land grab, both of which are zero-sum games. As Eric Hellman described earlier this month, zero-sum games soon enough begin to look like wars.

That’s not the future I think we need to accept.

We’re at an actionable crossroads. We can fight to preserve the distribution-centric model that has been in place for much of the last century, or we can examine options to shift to a publishing model that measures our success in supporting customer-valued outcomes.

In “Abundance”, I talked about repositioning publishing as the “engine of the engagement economy“. In my earlier post, I linked that back to something John Battelle had first posted in 2006, five of what he called “the golden rules of publishing”. These included:

As I noted in November, Battelle adds to the original five with new, uncomfortable sixth: all brands are publishers.

Right now, we’re worried about an abundance of authors, a blending of roles, a evolution of platforms and a host of challenges maintaining the infrastructure in place to support the creation and distribution of physical books. Our ultimate customers – readers – are worried about none of these things.

Soon enough, all brands will become publishers, and all authors will seek to become brands. Not all brands, or authors, will be successful, but the ability to market and distribute content efficiently won’t remain the hallmark of successful publishers. Success will likely start with meeting the explicit and implicit needs of readers, and users.

A closing note: I’ll be exploring other aspects of these ideas in posts that follow. I’ve also been invited to join an O’Reilly Media “Executive Roundtable” in New York on February 13, at which I’ll present “Abundance” and engage in a discussion that includes Lean Startup author Eric Ries. The event is invitation only, and you can ask for more information by contacting O’Reilly and completing a brief form.

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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