Strange bedfellows

After posting a summary of Johanna Vondeling's "top ten trends shaping the future of publishing", I am returning to each of the trends in separate posts appearing on Mondays for the balance of the summer.

Vondeling is Berrett-Koehler's vice president for international sales and business development. The seventh trend on her list, "Flux makes for strange bedfellows", highlights how business relationships are changing in the wake of disruption:

Legacy industries, such as book publishing, are concluding that previously unlikely alliances can help them survive and thrive. Many are funding or acquiring startups to help them adapt amid the present flux and strategize for the future.

In 2012, Pearson bought Author Solutions, one of the leading providers of “self-publishing” services. In 2013, Pearson and Kaplan both launched incubator programs to help vet and mentor education-tech startups. Macmillan has been aggressively investing a fund of over $100 million in ed-tech startups.

Other publishers are leveraging ties with other branded media platforms and content providers. Hyperion is selling its backlist and will focus exclusively on content tied to its sister companies Disney and ABC. Wiley is distributing material from (former competitor) OpenStax College, an open-source platform that makes introductory college textbooks available as free downloads.

I appreciate Vondeling's decision to focus on positive examples here. Although Pearson's acquisition of Author Solutions has proved controversial, the company is not sitting on the sidelines as the world around it changes. The same can be said of Hyperion and Wiley, two publishers that have focused their portfolios significantly.

Unfortunately, these leading examples sometimes feel like the only examples. Around the time that Amazon bought Goodreads, I wrote:

It's hard work starting a business whose underlying premise disrupts the one that made you successful. Building a new business model takes planning and patience.

Partnerships also require planning and patience. It's not enough to buy or buy into a business that fundamentally changes an established model. The acquiring/partnering entity has to organize to make that new business model a success. Few publishers adapt to do that.

As a result, companies like ReadSocial, Valobox and 24 Symbols struggle to gain the attention, support and funding they need to help publishers change their business models. It wouldn't take a lot to help any of these new ventures succeed. A bit of imagination might get the conversation started.

A bit of disclosure: Travis Alber and Aaron MIller, who founded BookGlutton and ReadSocial, contributed a chapter about the projects and their experiences to Book: A Futurist's Manifesto. I'm using ReadSocial as an example of a good idea that could fly with some support, but neither Travis nor Aaron was involved in the creation of this post.


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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