The lesson of the month for me has been: innovate, or die. And it’s a lesson I hope publishers will take to heart if they want to stay relevant! Now that it’s summer and I am spending more time outdoors, I’m listening to podcasts again, and Jillian Michaels discusses this in her most recent episode.
The context: she has moved from workout DVD production to streaming workout production recently, launching a subscription website which offers her own back catalogue, the back catalogues of other established stars, and a growing collection of videos she self-produces starring emerging talent with YouTube and Instagram followings. Lately, she has been ramping up her production on those fronts, and she approached her business manager about setting up her own production studio.
Alas, he was an old guard and didn’t get it. Why don’t we just rent the studio space when we need it, like we used to do? he asked her. The answer she tried to convey to him was: it doesn’t work that way anymore. The digital model moves so much faster than the analog one. You can’t stay competitive by deciding you need the content, then booking time somewhere and waiting three months to get your turn.
I appreciate that Ms. Michaels is this business-savvy, because I think she’s right. You have to be limber these days. You have to control your destiny as much as you can, and be ready to move fast.
Exhibit A: Amazon pulls my only selling book. I spent a bit of time being sad about that. I spent a little more trying to figure out which guidelines it was not compliant with (none) and what I could do to restore it to compliance (very little; Amazon has, for whatever reason, put the coloring books into a special ghetto and any edits I make will likely be rejected just as the initial—compliant—book was). And then? Then I moved onto next steps. I started working on my next project. If I have multiple titles and something goes wrong with one of them, it’s a lot easier to recover. It was my own fault for not producing more.
Exhibit B: Teleread itself. As a contributor, I have been privy to some of the behind-the-scenes stuff—trying to make old content fit new templates, trying to re-work this or that due to changes in the Google algorithms or what have you. Bottom line is, it was a different environment when Teleread got started. Readers were different. Blogs were different. People just don’t consume media the way they used to. That’s nobody’s fault, but it did mean a lot of effort to try and make the old Teleread fit the new internet.We’ve all had to stretch ourselves, to go on Twitter more, to reach out to readers and help build that audience. Innovate, or die, right? Fortunately, we all have the means to stay online and keep on trucking. But could a big publisher?
The mistake I’ve seen many content producers make is to assume two false things. Firstly, they assume that their content is irreplaceable. We were looking into a video game purchase that the Kiddo wanted, but when we found out it was download-only, we opted not to buy. After the fiasco we had with the Nintendo download store, which only lets you play content on one device, and will not let you transfer single titles to your other ones (it’s all or nothing in NIntendo world!) we opted not to. The content was not so important that we would buy it under any terms. It turned out that when the terms were unfavourable, we were happy to simply do without.
The second mistake is that they assume they are irreplaceable. That is, they assume that if I decide not to buy, say, the new Nora Roberts novel from them, I will take that same money and use it to buy another book, from them. It overlooks that I may use the money instead to buy a book from someone else. Or to not buy a book at all. I have a finite quantity of money, and a finite quantity of time, to spend on leisure activities. The book, the video game, the app and the movie are all competing for my same $20.
So I think publishers, like any content provider, need to be able to think on their feet more than they used to. They need to try new stuff, but they need to be unattached enough to the outcome that they can let it go and switch gears if the new stuff doesn’t work for them. As Jillian Michaels says, it can’t be ‘three months from now, we will feel this need.’ It has to be now, right away, or those customers will depart, perhaps forever.