Playing the Game of 'Publishing Executive'
I think we can all agree that ebooks are part of our present and future, right? Obvious, right? Of course, there are all those open questions about format and timing and volume and functionality, and what print will be like, etc., etc. But the basics are in place, aren't they?
Then why does everyone still seem so confused about what to do?
Well, let's play the game of "Publishing Executive." It's a simulation game-- your avatar is a publishing executive and responsible for steering the direction of your company. They must get their arms around the present and future state of the industry--have ebooks finally taken over? Is print hanging on? Where does your avatar put its resources? The stockholders or private equity firm that own the company want answers! And what about the customers?!
You get all kinds of input for your avatar's decision-making, such as:
- Your avatar ingests the reports of millions of e-readers being sold over the holidays (it's a PC game; Christmas is not mentioned).
- Your avatar reads the reports of magazines preparing iPad-only versions.
- Your avatar ingests various blogs and websites, and subscribes to industry newsletters from sites such as mediabistro.com.
One day it gets an email from mediabistro.com telling them that USA Today is reporting that ebook versions of the top six bestselling books are doing better than their print counterparts AND, of the top 50, 19 had higher ebook than print sales. "Wow," you (and your avatar) think, "This is significant." And then they get this email from mediabistro.com saying that Amazon sold 7 million Kindles last year and will probably sell 12 million this year. Yikes! Guess we've turned the corner on ebooks taking over, right?!
Your avatar becomes so anxious to dump print that it's twitching, making plans to lay off all staff that touch print, calling EVERYONE in India (even the guy in Pondicherry that makes those delicious candies), having lawyers look into breaking contracts with print manufacturers (again), going to Etrade.com to sell their personal RR Donnelley stock, etc., etc.
Clearly, ALL resources for the present and future must go to ebooks, right? Sound like a familiar reaction at your company?
But then the avatar reads the actual USA Today article and sees that someone from Bowker is quoted as saying that this can't be sustained. And they see a quote from an Amazon rep that Amazon's print business is still growing, and they see ebooks as just "an additive." Your avatar is getting nervous now. Isn't an additive something that goes in the gas tank, like STP?!
Then, a couple of days later, it receives an email from mediabistro.com telling it that 75 percent of college students prefer the print versions of their textbooks because they prefer the look and feel of print. Only 12 percent of the survey respondents prefer the e-versions. The study was done by the Book Industry Study Group, so this is serious stuff!
Yikes! Now your avatar's head is, literally, spinning. (Hey, it's an avatar; its head can spin.) Once again, sound like a familiar reaction at your company?
What's an avatar to do?
The answers are, of course, not simple. But it does start with your avatar taking a (virtual) breath and ACCEPTING (not just understanding) that it's not a black and white world we live in. This means going beyond spouting the party line and being able to manage in a world of ambiguity.
A key here is building in flexibility in the writing and production of content. The editors and authors need to think about content both in terms of flat delivery in print, and the "add-ons" that electronic delivery can offer. Depending on the type of publishing, they may also need to think about content not as a whole book, but as chunks of various sizes. Their production team needs to think about creating those content files in a workflow that will deliver PDF files for print, but also the various e-content versions required.
This all requires expanding your avatar's comfort zone and their thinking about current and future content delivery. Hey, an avatar can handle this. Why do our real-life executives seems to be having so much trouble?
He is currently Production Director for Teachers College Press. Previously, he was Vice President, Global Content and Media Production for Cengage Learning. Prior to that he was Vice President of Production and Manufacturing for Oxford University Press, Pearson/Prentice Hall, Worth Publishers and HarperCollins.
In those capacities, he has been a leader in managing process and content for delivery in as many ways possible.