Malleable Models: The real effects of the digital revolution on business

Self-employed in publishing

This is a guest post from Jasmin Kirkbride. Jasmin is a regular blogger for BookMachine and Editorial Assistant at Periscope Books (part of Garnet Publishing). She is also a published author and you can find her on Twitter @jasminkirkbride

World-famous travel and maps bookshop Stanfords has announced that, alongside books, they will now be offering horse-drawn omnibus tours of London to their customers. While this idea fits well with their brand, it definitely breaks the mould of what we have come to expect from a bookshop. And Stanfords aren’t the only ones employing lateral thinking to revamp their brand: it’s a phenomena happening across the board and it’s results are as exciting as they are intriguing.

Why digital forced us to adapt

The last decade has seen a revolution in the way we use technology. It has become unimaginably mobile, instant, easy and relatively cheap. Smartphones were released in 2000 but the iPhone, which really lit the smart-phone fire in line with the roll-out of 3G internet access, was launched as recently as 29 June 2007. The iPad only followed in 1 April 2010. The first mainstream eReaders, the Sony Reader and Kindle, were only released in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

In conjunction with the growing popularity of online bookstores, these eReaders pushed bricks and mortar bookshops to the front line of the digital revolution and, in order to survive, they had to adapt quickly to a new, much harsher, business environment. From selling coffee, cuddly toys, wrapping paper and even the eReaders themselves, bricks and mortar booksellers are now constantly experimenting with new products and new ways to sell them. Increasingly, they’re looking outside of the lines of books altogether, as Stanfords’ tours indicate.

Publishers also experienced the hit, suddenly competing with any number of the instant-access entertainments which are now available through mobile devices. As a consequence, many of the most successful publishers have found themselves making apps, merchandise and even television shows to survive and succeed in this new environment.

How digital-savvy businesses behave differently

Along with this mobile technology came new methods of working and conducting business. Tech development companies made previously obscure methodologies mainstream, such as Agile. These methods promote adaptive planning, evolutionary development, continuous improvement, and encourage rapid and flexible response to change. This means that most successful tech companies are in a constant cycle of honing and improving their products, making their businesses highly malleable.

Amazon famously began as a book store, expanded into other products, until now you can buy everything including the kitchen sink from it. Google started as a search engine, but now you can store your entire life on the cloud, emails, files and all. At every step along the way, these companies do the thing you wouldn’t expect, embracing their competitors or releasing a surprising product.

The new digital company doesn’t have a rigid ‘business-model’: it has a flexible ‘business-possible’.

Hold your business lightly

Mobile technology has blown the world right open, made everything – and everyone – instantly accessible. We are no longer held in by the restraints of our reach because everybody’s reach is as infinite as they want to make it.

Employing this in combination with the lateral, imaginative thinking of tech companies has led to collaborations we never would have guessed at five or ten years ago: a Waterstones sleepover with Air BnB; large Children’s publishing giants teaming up with successful television and film brands to create apps and books; online literature festivals; independent publishers leveraging the exposure social networking offers them to make big names for small businesses.

In a digital world, everything is in flux and everything is adaptable. Your business doesn’t ever only do one thing – it can and should do anything. Employ your imagination and digital stops being intimidating and starts being fun. Your ideas are your limit. Don’t hold on too tightly to opinions about what your brand can and should be: allow it to do the interesting and unexpected thing.

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