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Why publishers should be like Bond (James Bond)

Last week I gave a talk at the CoreSource user group on success and agility. Ingram Content Group itself exemplifies both: over the last 20 years it’s reinvented itself by a steady process of acquisition, reorganization and diversification, from its early days distributing microfiche readers in Nashville to an international group offering solutions to publishers and authors at every stage of the print and digital workflow. (So, no pressure, then.)

The theme of the day was ‘Secrets and Spies’. I began by asking: What is James Bond’s most effective weapon?

Could it be the Beretta 418, the gun featured in the original Casino Royale? Or the Walther PPK that replaced it? The improved flamethrower from Live and Let Die? Or maybe the remote controlled BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies, with its sunroof missiles and the wire cutter hidden in the logo?

It’s none of these, of course. Bond’s most effective weapon is his ability to adapt. He is the ultimate survivor – not just because he’s handy with a semi-automatic, but because he constantly changes, evolves, reinvents himself. Bond is agile, in every sense of the word.

I’ve been in publishing for 25 years now, and in digital publishing for most of those years, and for pretty much all that time publishing has been ‘in crisis’ somehow or other, there’s been one villain after another threatening to take over our world.

First there was ‘the threat of digital’, ‘the death of print’, closely linked to the hysteria over piracy. We’re navigating the transition and actually it’s been kind of fun – but costs generally went up and revenues generally went down.

Then there was Amazon, disrupting the established bookselling industry, driving down prices, keeping its data on ebook sales to itself and leaving us guessing at the true size of the market.

More recently there’s been ‘the threat of self-publishing’, and the rush of publishers to justify their existence, the fear of being disintermediated. Turns out there’s still room for traditional publishers, but because authors now have options, the terms for authors had to become more favourable, which erodes publishers’ profits, and the overall market share of the traditional publishing sector went down.

Now it’s ‘the sharing economy’, fuelled by cocreation and collaboration, its core values open access and connection and access rather than ownership and loads of stuff that runs directly counter to the traditional publishing model of selling discrete units of content to people for money.

So where does all this leave us? Each wave of disruption has tended to chip away at profits and add to costs. It feels uncomfortably like the laser is getting every closer to our critical bits.

But of course disruption is just another word for opportunity. The reality is that for those with the imagination and the will to make the leap, there are more opportunities out there than ever before for publishers to make money. Content is the currency of our age, and we are experts on content. Everyone now needs the skills we have.

But publishers who are still exclusively focused on picking one course through this explosion of possibilities, still wedded to the traditional model of selling content in books to consumers through shops to make a profit, are missing out on potential revenue today and I suggest may also  be writing their death warrant for tomorrow.

Like Bond, and indeed like Ingram, successful and agile companies select and seize opportunities – and the best opportunities will be different for each – build on what’s there already to add new revenue streams in growth markets to supplement declining revenues in old markets.

So what are YOUR weapons? What do you do best? How can you exploit that in new ways?

Don’t forget that Bond didn’t operate alone. You can innovate faster and smarter if you collaborate with the right partners. Take a long hard look at your existing partners – are you making the most of the opportunities that they’re creating? And if they’re not creating opportunities for you, consider making some new partners with the right tools and skills to help your achieve your mission. After all, where would Bond be without Q?

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

agile, digital opportunities, Ingram Content Group, Innovation, market opportunities

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