Why Business Foresight is Key to Publishers' Vitality
Last week at the Professional and Scholarly Publishers Conference -- an event hosted by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and Professional & Scholarly Publishers (PSP) in Washington D.C. -- keynote speaker Joseph Esposito posed a question that all publishers, not just those in the professional and scholarly segments, are struggling to answer. That question is: how can publishers prepare for the future and anticipate new opportunities in a rapidly changing industry while maintaining the value of legacy assets? Esposito, a publishing veteran and industry consultant, argued that building foresight into company’s daily management and long-term strategy is key. It’s a practice any publisher, regardless of size, can implement, he observed.
As an aside, the advice on foresight is only one part of the PSP keynote, and there are several interesting points Esposito made about pursuing an “agile” vs. “bulwark” strategy at various types of publishing companies. The keynote is worth digging into, and it can be found in its entirety on The Scholarly Kitchen where Esposito is a regular contributor.
Esposito described foresight not so much as predicting the future, but as narrowing down how a publishing company might take advantage of future opportunities. To do this, he said executives must keep an eye on new technologies and business models that emerge at the edge of the main business.
Esposito offered five ways that publishers can develop forward-looking strategies without neglecting their core assets:
1. “Seek Multiple Inputs.” - Esposito advised publishing executives to look both within and outside their organizations for insights on emerging tech. He noted that often the youngest staff within a company have grasped where a market is headed, but are rarely asked. Esposito said that while he led an internet community company, young employees were sharing music files well before Napster was even founded. “Somebody you already employ knows the answer,” he concluded. “The trick is to find out who.”
2. “Place Lots of Small Bets.” - It’s worth testing new ideas and calling it quits when they don’t work, said Esposito. Book Business heard this sentiment shared multiple times in 2014 feature on innovation. For example, Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins, explained why the publisher was quick to place its content on new ebook subscription platforms: “You have to actually try to support, participate, and learn [from new business models], rather than sitting on the fence. Only by participating do you have a chance of getting the value of your content recognized.”
3. “Study Other Publishing Segments for New Ideas.” - Esposito gave the example of self-publishing and noted that trade publishers could learn from their scholarly counterparts. Scholarly publishers have monetized a type of self-publishing by creating the “Gold” open access model. In that model authors pay journal publishers a fee to be published.
4. “Put Your Best People on the New Activities.” - Esposito told PSP attendees, “You should be putting more resources into tomorrow’s business than yesterday’s.” That means putting the best talent on emerging revenue streams as opposed to established ones. Esposito noted that most businesses, feeling the need to protect legacy assets, do the exact opposite.
5. “Be on the Lookout for Entrants from Left Field” - Esposito said that publishing leaders need to look outside of the industry for the next big business disruptor. “The hardest thing is to anticipate a new player from outside the industry,” said Esposito. “When this happens, it has the potential to shake up the entire ecosystem.” He added that building a connection with a rising player outside of the industry is worth the effort and could pay off down the road.
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.