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Balancing Data Insights And Innovation As We Move Into The Future of Publishing

Asking more than one vital question.

With one or two exceptions, I’m not a fan of most lists, particularly when they offer advice like “The one vital question to ask potential customers before you try anything new“. That post, written by Paul B. Brown for Forbes, advised entrepreneurs to ask for the money:

Instead of saying, “do you like my idea” ask “is this something you would buy,” and if they say yes, ask for the order then and there. If, as the cliché goes, they are willing to put their money where their mouth is, you are probably on to something. If they aren’t, you still have work to do.

Brown’s recommendation reminded me of Eric Ries and his approach to writing The Lean Startup. Early in 2012, I had a chance to sit with Ries as we presented our views of how publishing might find a way forward. In preparing to write his book, Ries had rigorously followed a multi-step process, one that: defined the project; established hurdles for near-term and mid-term success, and then achieved them and moved on, or fell short and iterated.

I’ve written before that at least some of those attending were not enamored of the lean startup model as it applied to publishing. One expressed concern: following the market would drive out innovation, reducing opportunities for challenging works of surpassing beauty.

I think there’s a difference between developing a new business, using data to improve an existing business, and developing a new product within an existing business. Both Brown and Ries offer arguments to reduce the risk that comes with developing a new product within an existing business.

That’s what editors sometimes do when they seek comparables from around the market. I don’t think that practice threatens the future for works of surpassing beauty, particularly now that self-publishing is a credible option.

It remains hard to use data to improve an established business. In my earlier post, I drew a parallel with data-driven viticulture, quoting a vineyard owner who observed “There’s a scientific part to their business that I just can’t align myself with.”

Businesses with growing revenues and healthy margins can avoid data-driven improvements, at least for a while. These days, the number of publishers who can claim they have growing revenues and healthy margins is fairly small. For the rest, it’s time to start developing and using good data.

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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