Thomas Nelson's Digital Plan: A Q&A With the Religious Publisher's New Digital Strategy Leader Tod Shuttleworth
At 4:27 a.m. on April 23, Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt "tweeted" on Twitter.com: “We have just put [Senior Vice President and Group Publisher] Tod Shuttleworth in charge of our digital strategy.” Hyatt directed those who wanted to learn more to ObservationsOnceRemoved.blogspot.com, the blog Shuttleworth writes about “observations on publishing, digital strategy, youth baseball and life.”
And so Shuttleworth is off to the races, trying to figure out how he can—as he stated in an April 20 blog post—stop being a “digital armchair quarterback” and get on the field.
In that same blog post, which is a reposted company memo, Shuttleworth wrote to his colleagues about how he will formulate Thomas Nelson's digital strategy: He plans to listen to his digital team. Then, he will meet with other colleagues to hear their ideas before turning an ear to outside “world-class leaders and companies” interested in contributing. Next, he will “build an executable strategy,” and the final step will be to execute said strategy, which will continue to be revised and adapted.
Shuttleworth recently spoke with Book Business Extra about the transition and Thomas Nelson's unfolding digital strategy.
Book Business Extra: How's it going so far in your new position? What are you finding to be Thomas Nelson's biggest digital strategy challenges?
Tod Shuttleworth: It's going great. … Our internal folks in charge of our digital strategies have done an amazing job. Outside folks are helpful with their many opinions. Everyone has ideas, but no one really knows where this adventure will take us. ... We don't really know what [the challenges] are yet. [But] I suspect, like any change, it's educating the current employees [on] how things will be changing and execution of [those] changes. ...
Book Business Extra: You outlined your strategy in a memo to your colleagues, which included seeking input from your digital team, colleagues and others. What kind of responses have you gotten so far? How are you integrating the responses into your plans?
Shuttleworth: … We're talking to thought leaders in content distribution. We're talking to thought leaders in traditional publishing, technology firms. But it's really not about the technology. It's really about consumer behavior. So we're talking to people that have interesting things to say about how consumer behavior is changing—especially relative to content acquisition.
We are, however, in an information-gathering stage, so there are not any defined plans in addition to what we are already doing with e-books, etc. It will take time to define the larger plan.
Book Business Extra: Was the decision to consult with outside companies and leaders a foreign way of thinking at Nelson?
Shuttleworth: [No,] this is pretty standard practice at Nelson. We search out the best, do a lot of listening, ask a bunch of questions, engage in internal debate, arrive at a strategy and then execute it, knowing that we will have to make course corrections. My gut says that there will be more course corrections in a world that always seems to be changing … . And, failing is OK. We will experiment with more things on a small scale. ...
Book Business Extra: You noted that the way people are consuming books is changing; therefore, digital strategy must change. How is Thomas Nelson reacting to this societal shift?
Shuttleworth: I am still learning. One observation is that consumers want their information now. Even a drive to the bookstore is sometimes too long to wait. I have a Kindle, for example, and I love to be able to download a book the second I get the impulse to do so.
I suspect the Kindle is an example of how to leverage consumers' evolving habits and needs. Consumers want their information at their fingertips in whatever format they desire the information. ... Our e-book business is growing very quickly, as is audio downloads.
And, today, it's common knowledge that the second-most common form of book awareness is online media, such as online communities [and] anything that has to do with the online world–everything from book widgets to Web sites to blogs. ... Still, the most important is displays in the bookstores. But things like print, television and radio have virtually completely gone away. So, obviously … anything on the marketing side of book publishing now has to have the social media and online component.