Our friend, destruction • 19 October 2006 • The SnowBlog
Our friend, destruction
So yesterday saw me attend a seminar about digitisation. I sit near the door at these things, just in case. Should've bolted. We've spent quite a lot of time thinking through our strategy so I wasn't coming to this with a blank canvas, and what do you know? I came away with exactly no additional information to add into our planning. Actually, that's not quite true: I came away with a sense of exactly which companies will be around in years to come, and which ones will fail without knowing what hit them.
How much longer can this industry continue to be on the defensive? Or to be so obtuse? Amazon WILL disintermediate the supply chain and offer publication services to authors; authors WILL take advantage of this because it is currently almost impossible to get published. A decent e-reader WILL come along and the mass market WILL engage in time. And why aren't publishers more worried about their role in life? As we've said before, publishers do so little. They outsource almost every function, from typesetting and printing to distribution, sales and sourcing content (to agents and authors) and even editorial and proofreading work. Ah yes, dear, they say, but publishers are a badge of quality. Their careful eye selects the needles from the haystack. Well if our main role is as a filter, we are doing a pretty shocking job. The back of every book screams 'this is the best book' - blurbs and endorsements provide no real differentiation. Books that editors pay vast sums for fail to earn back their advances, so how good are those editors as the arbiters of the reading public's taste? Peer to peer networks WILL provide the best recommendations and will act as a perfectly good filter of quality even as the number of books available increases.
The businesses that survive over the long term will be those that are willing to destroy themselves, phoenix-stylee. Those who cling on for their pound of flesh or their 10% or who work hard to protect their job description are delusional if they think the market will tolerate them. That makes me excited for Snowbooks, because we're good at knocking stuff down, and a lot of businesses aren't. It stands to reason: the skills that get a 55 year old man to be the md of his organisation are pretty much defunct in the organisation of the future - why would he bring about his own redundancy?
We have a healthy respect for the market. We know that readers already don't need us; we know that in the future authors won't need us unless we do something useful to improve their content. So we keep most of our processes in-house; we add value to books through editorial work and design. And more than anything, we don't think of digitisation as a thing that needs to be tackled. It's the world, and a big shiny exciting one at that.
So: rant over. No more looking at what everyone else is doing wrong - there's no talking to them, so stuff 'em. Subsequent posts will be about exciting, forward-looking developments. To the future!