It is said that the only constant in life is change. Change can be scary and exciting and often comes with many consequences, good and bad. But those willing to adapt and change to their environment and surroundings are the ones who ultimately survive. This is especially true in publishing. In an industry that has seen tremendous change in recent years, it is necessary that publishers innovate or die.
The term “innovate or die” has been used often to sum up the necessary call to arms for companies in rapidly-changing industries. It alludes to the idea that one must be willing to grow and change when times call for it, or suffer a death of sorts. Especially in a world gone almost completely digital.
“What publishers need to be doing,” says Suw Charman-Anderson, author and contributor to Forbes.com, “is disrupting their own business before someone else does.”
In the same way that Amazon’s Kindle was a digital disruptor to print books, legacy publishers need to be digital disruptors to their own publishing companies and the ways in which they used to operate. Remaining rigid and unyielding offers no one a solution. With an openness to be innovative and fluid in this new digital world, publishers can bridge the gap between self-publishing and traditional publishing, thus creating a new hybrid version of the two that benefits authors and publishers.
The Great and Powerful Digital Disruption
Digital disruption, as described in James McQuivey’s book, Digital Disruption, is the use of digital resources for the specific purpose of providing more value at “a lower cost, with faster development times, and greater impact.”
Innovation on a disruptive level has changed for book publishing because the disruption is no longer physical—and because traditional publishers aren’t able to lord over those physical changes anymore. Instead, we have digital disruption, which McQuivey says happens to and through digital things (e-books, e-readers, etc.), accelerating the disruption of physical things (print books and traditional publishers).
By embracing and utilizing the very technology that is changing the book publishing world, traditional book publishers have the ability to offer authors the same services provided by self-publishing platforms under the umbrella of a vast amount of knowledge, experience, and a long-standing history of success.
As Barry Eisler has said, “We have to be careful not to conflate publishing services with the entities that have traditionally provided them. The services are essential; the entities are not.”
Traditional publishers need to recognize that the shifting foundation of publishing is still settling, and there is still a need for the services traditional publishers can offer, just not in the capacity there once was.
E-books, E-readers, and Indies, Oh My!
As a writer and a book editor, I’ve been able to straddle the fence as the dust continues to settle in the publishing industry. What I see are indie authors—fledgling authors and seasoned authors, alike—struggling to navigate this new world where the rules are that there are no rules. They have no gatekeepers, no literary landscapers, no publishing “parents” to send them off into the world. And I see traditional publishers trying to hang on to that last shred of the old world, stubborn and crotchety, shaking their fists at self-published authors, screaming, “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little e-book too!”
And it’s true, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. But like it or not, this is our Oz. It’s imperative that publishers accept this new world, embrace it, and find a way to digitally disrupt their own outdated business models. In essence, they must innovate…or die.
As the great martial artist Bruce Lee once said, “The stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”