Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Innovation circles the publishing industry

There are a few relatively hide-bound industries in the US that have to date been somewhat impervious to real innovation.  If you've followed this blog you know that I believe traditional retail banking is one of those industries.  Retail banking is already dead, it just doesn't know it yet.

Another industry ripe for innovation is the book publishing industry.  Sure, self-publishing is on the rise, and I published my last book (shameless plug alert!) OutManeuver with Xlibris, after finding out that the traditional book publishers would take nearly twice as long, and provide about the same amount of marketing support:  zero.  And before you accuse me of not fully understanding the traditional book publishing genre, let me also note that I had the good fortune to work with McGraw-Hill on a book (another shameless plug) entitled Relentless Innovation.  If you've ever tried to read a quarterly financial reconciliation from a book publisher, you'll know the definition of obfuscation.

But we've been down this road before.  Self-publishing was going to revolutionize the industry.  In reality it made it easier for more people to publish books, but does not increase substantially the amount of books bought or read, or reviewed for that matter, since EVERYBODY knows that only books that progress through the traditional publishing process deserve to be recognized and reviewed.  Fully tongue in cheek territory here.

Further, ebooks, e-readers and other technology were going to innovate and disrupt the industry.  The e-readers have had an impact on how and where people read, but I'm not sure they've really had an impact on the industry, other than to introduce new pricing and new distribution.

So if how books are published and how books are consumed haven't had an real impact, what other methods of attack will innovators create?  James Patterson, the prolific author of the Alex Cross series and many other books, has a potential answer:  shorter books.  Patterson is working with his "traditional" publisher on a new type of book, 150 pages or less, with the same plots and action.  Patterson believes that people want to read, just don't have the time for long books.  He calls these shorter books "bookshots" and several are ready to be published.  Now, this sounds good and I'd be happy to read some shorter books that get to the point quickly, because the industry has always said, especially for non-fiction business books, that they HAVE to be at least 200 pages, but as you and I can both attest most Malcolm Gladwell books were good for the first 40-50 pages and then were merely filler after that.  In fact many business books could be much shorter and to the point, but publishers have resisted this idea.

But this still raises the question:  is readership declining because books are too long, or for other reasons?  Will shorter books attract more readers?  I think the bookshot ideas toys at the margins, rather than attacks the real problem.  This is a case of inside-out innovation, where the traditional provider (Patterson and his publisher) spot a problem (declining book readership) and attempt to solve a symptom of the problem (no time or attention span).  They miss what I believe is the real problem:  interactivity. Through social media, especially Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms, people are used to reading, but expect to drill deeply into links and hope to co-create on the fly.  To my way of thinking, traditional reading is simply too stodgy for many people who were raised on the screen and expect a level of interactivity that simply isn't possible on the printed page.

You may rebut this by pointing at the e-readers, but the level of connectivity and interactivity is limited and the traditional publishers shy away from co-creation, like links, comments and feedback.  When book publishing becomes a bit more like a Facebook page, with far more interactivity, co-creation, links to relevant information and other factors, that might force an entire rethink of book publishing.  I'm not sold on Patterson's shorter books philosophy, but hand it to the man, he's experimenting, and that's what a lot of these stodgy industries need - someone to force them to experiment.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 7:59 AM


Post a Comment

<< Home