Doom and Gloom: Blow it Up, Start All Over Again
When John D. Loudermilk wrote (or, at least, got credit for writing) the song Tobacco Road, he did not have the publishing industry in mind when he penned the line: "Blow it up, start all over again." The song actually was about growing up in Durham, N.C.
We’ve all been frustrated by, and suffered for, the inability of publishers to figure out how to truly adapt to the new world. Erin Griffith recently wrote a piece for Pandodaily called “Macmillan Knows Publishing is Doomed So It’s Funding the Future” about an interesting effort being undertaken by Macmillan Publishing.
They have hired someone, and given him a very large budget and a specific mandate. According to Griffith, that mandate is: “Build a business that will undermine our own.” He is to use that budget to acquire education/technology startup companies that will eventually form the core of a “new” Macmillan. In the meantime, those companies will exist within Macmillan while the current business continues on. The intent is for Macmillan to “transition out of the content business and into educational software and services.”
I suggest you read her piece for the interesting details about trends Macmillan sees in how educational institutions will buy content, how that content is used, and the further blurring of online and offline classrooms.
Much as I enjoy blowing things up and putting them back together as something different, here’s the thing: Publishing is not doomed. And Macmillan is not actually blowing itself up.
For as long as there has been something resembling “industry” (no matter what it may have been called), companies have had to re-invent themselves to stay alive. It may have been because someone else came up with a game-changing idea, or new technology became commonplace, or simply because the calendar moved forward. Things change. Always and constantly.
Let’s say it together: “Let’s Go Rangers!”, oh, sorry, I meant “publishing is not doomed!” Somehow, some way, people will be creating content and other people will be reading that content. What we call “publishing” will be defined differently, heck it already is.
Macmillan is doing what companies have always done—trying to maintain the core business while it positions itself for what company leadership believes will come in the future. For which I say, “Bravo!”
And by the way, Macmillan is not the only publisher doing this. Take a look at educational publishers, in particular. The smart ones have begun looking at content as software, apps, etc. and positioning themselves for that transition.
We all have to live in multiple worlds right now. We’re finally seeing the glimmer of a trend that publishers are accepting that there’s a new world out there and creating business models for themselves that will allow them to thrive.
And doing that minimizes the need for blowing things up.
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.