Monday, April 23, 2012

Managing A Changing Book Publishing Landscape

If you are a fan of the 1970’s TV sitcom, The Odd Couple, you might appreciate a line that was spoken by one of the main characters, Felix.  He says, “Never assume, because you’ll make an ass out of you and me.” 

But in our fast-changing world we make all kinds of assumptions while planning for multiple scenarios that could unfold.  I made the mistake of guessing in the wrong direction recently and it made me realize it’s one thing to anticipate change, and another to act on it.

Case in point.  My firm, Media Connect, was recently told by its parent company that it may relocate us to their building across the street.  So I started to pack up my stuff, which included removing about 700 book covers from my office walls.  Well, it now looks like the move has been delayed indefinitely and it may not take place at all.  Or that could change tomorrow.  Nevertheless, I have some decorating to do.

The lesson here is that we need to be aware of the possibilities out there and bet on the probabilities -- but don’t commit yourself until the last possible minute because things can always change.

The book industry is undergoing dramatic change.  Has been for at least five years.  We all try to insulate ourselves and to find some security, some kind of stable ground to build our foundation upon.  It’s hard when the ground feels like quicksand and you’re wondering which way the wind will blow. 

My advice: Hang in there.  Keep doing what is proven and sound, and be open to experimenting and looking for a hot hand to play. 

But whatever you do, don’t pack until the moving truck is at your office’s doorstep. 

Interview With Razorfish Chairman Clark Kokich

From “Razorfish helps companies build great brands by creating engaging experiences for consumers wherever they live in the digital world.”

1.      Nothing like a provocative title to get the conversation started. What is your book, Do or Die, about? Do or Die is my view of how companies can deal with the rapidly changing consumer landscape.  The basic idea is that brands need to stop relying solely on paid advertising to get their message across.  They need to do something that matters – something meaningful enough that their customers will tell their friends.

The basic message:  Do, don’t just Say.

While most companies aren’t doing a great job of this, I did find eight who truly embody the Do or Die ethos, and luckily, they were willing to share their stories.  The case histories provide inspiration for companies who want to thrive in the future, and a warning for those who continue to ignore the new reality.

2.      What inspired you to write it? I became frustrated with the pace of change in our industry.  The people who lead clients and run agencies tend to be about my age (let’s just say I’m over 50).  And people my age don’t like change.  They like to hang on to what they know, even when it flies in the face of what’s happening all around them.

So I thought the industry needed a wake-up call.  That’s where the title came from.

3.      What do chief marketing officers tend to do wrong? Right? In my experience, most CMO’s are moving aggressively to embrace the new media channels, particularly mobile and social.  So that’s good.  Unfortunately, in most cases, they’re thinking of these channels as just another form of advertising.  Different yes, but basically, to them it’s just a new way to tell their story. What they should be doing is thinking of these new channels as an opportunity to redefine their brand’s product experience.  So it’s not just storytelling.  It’s inventing and creating an entirely new story.  I’ve only found a handful who truly get it.

4.      Who did you screw over to get to where you are? Rather, let me reword that: is business brutal or what? OK.  I’m going to answer the “re-worded” version of your question. 

Yes, business can be brutal, in the sense that it’s intense, competitive, and requires non-stop focus.  There’s nowhere to hide, especially now, when the rules are changing daily.  It’s a race that never ends.

But that doesn’t mean you have to behave brutally.  In fact, mean-spirited people won’t thrive in today’s world, where collaboration and innovation have become more important than ever.  Grace and inspirational leadership are the new weapons of choice.  Sheer brute force will fail.

5.      You say that CEOs everywhere need to think about how to break down the silos across their companies. Every company has this problem and few solve it. What is your solution? You can’t just order people to work together.  You have to give them a common goal and inspire them to collaborate on a solution.  So the CEO needs to focus everyone on transforming the customer experience.  Product development doesn’t happen in a corner office anymore.  Now the virtual product experience is as important as the physical product experience.  In order to thrill customers you need everyone – marketing, IT, product development, customer service, store, e-commerce – working together to build a digital experience which truly redefines the product.  It’s up to the CEO to make that happen.

6.      The business landscape changes more often and at such a high volume than ever before. How can a company succeed AND remain successful? There is only one way to succeed and to stay successful, and that is to relentlessly innovate on behalf of your customers.  Successful companies got that way because at some point they solved a customer problem better than the competitor could solve it.  But for most companies, success leads to complacency.  They lose the hunger to keep getting better, to keep innovating.  They get fat and lazy.  They focus exclusively on making money, rather than on making a difference for in their customers’ lives. 

If you’re not innovating, you’re dying. 

7.      You say: “Marketing and the way companies operate today has changed drastically—and only those CEOs and leaders who embrace it, who recognize it, who change it--will be the ones to survive.” But how do you grab hold of a moving target? The best way to keep pace with change is to make sure your company is allowing ideas to flow freely up through the organization.  Top-down strategy and management directives won’t work in today’s environment.  The only people who know what’s really happening, what’s really changing, are the people who work every day with the customer – folks from sales, stores, and customer service.  If their ideas aren’t being heard and acted upon, very bad things will happen.

8.      What did you hate/love about the process of writing your book? I really enjoyed the design process.  Since Do or Die is a full-featured iPad app and not just a book, we had the opportunity to completely rethink what a book should be on this new platform.  We ended up creating the first fully-interactive, full-length business book, and it’s always satisfying to do something nobody has ever done before.

I didn’t like the effort involved in pulling together all of the case histories.  Getting permissions, scheduling interviews, collecting assets, securing approval from attorneys and PR folks at the client companies – all very annoying. 

9.      Where do you see the future of book publishing? I have a hard time seeing what role publishers will play in the future.  Basically they’re just printers and distributors, and digital is quickly marginalizing those contributions.  In the past, you could argue publishers acted as curators, but in an increasingly social and connected world, people will rely on recommendations from others more than endorsements from experts.

I still like books, but I’m old.  We’re raising a generation of readers who couldn’t care less.  I’m sure there will always be books for avid collectors, just like there are still vinyl records for enthusiasts.  But it won’t be the bulk of the business.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s leading book publicity firm. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person

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