The business of books: Defying classification
This week’s guest in The Extraordinary Business Book Club house was Patrick McGinnis, author of The 10% Entrepreneur: Live Your Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job (Penguin, 2016). His premise is beautifully simple: add a little entrepreneurship to your work/life balance to enjoy the buzz, meet the interesting people and get the upside when things go well while still keeping the security of the steady job (although as Patrick discovered in 2008, and as anyone in publishing could have told him, ‘security’ and ‘steady jobs’ are not what they used to be).
From a publishing perspective, there was one thing that really struck me about Patrick’s book: it hits something of a schism in the genre or, as Patrick put it, it’s ‘intra-category’. When someone says ‘business book’, it’s worth finding out whether they’re a manager in a big corporate or an entrepreneur before you assume what they mean by that. When I worked in a big company I read ‘business books’ on leadership, management, building teams and so on. Now I turn to books on mindset, productivity, and how-to guides to the more arcane digital marketing techniques.
(It’s not just in subject matter that books for the two audiences differ: there’s a fundamentally different set of values and assumptions behind them too, which makes straddling them tricky. Patrick noted: ‘In start-up world, failure is considered to be very wonderful and we should talk about it, it’s part of the process. In corporate world… you never lead with failure. That was something that was a learned skill for me.’)
Foyles put the book in the start-up section, guided perhaps by the use of ‘Entrepreneur’ in the title, but the whole point is it’s blending these two business paradigms – corporate and start-up – with no consideration whatsoever for the poor bookseller who has to decide which shelf to put it on.
I’ve noticed more and more handwritten labels in stores and libraries over the last couple of years in an attempt to keep up with the category implosion but they’re fighting a losing battle: 512 new categories will be introduced into the BISAC list this year.
Is it metadata meltdown? Maybe. But it’s also the natural result of an industry in vigorous and disruptive growth: more books, more nuanced categories, more online-centric discovery, more headaches for the poor guy in the bookstore.
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.