Reinvention as the Truest Form of Innovation

I recently read a book entirely on a tablet for the first time, while (guiltily) neglecting the paper edition that arrived days later. It got me thinking: In a time when “success” often means merely staying afloat, what can we learn from the book industry—perhaps in a greater state of flux than any other industry?

You’ve certainly read the headlines. Bookstores are folding, undercut by literary agents and Internet behemoths enticing authors to self-publish. Book publishers are being nailed by e-readers that are eliminating the need for more profitable printed books. Some publishing houses are just giving up.

I recently sat down with an old colleague who works in book publishing, who shared some examples of how the more tenacious and innovative among them are reinventing themselves to keep the pages turning—and the doors open. Their techniques just might have value for your business as well.

Embrace change rather than resist it. Seeing where the market is heading, 180-year-old publishing house Baker & Taylor is building relationships with the makers of smart phones and e-readers. The goal? To place Baker & Taylor book content on new devices when they’re shipped. This not only opens up a whole new universe of customers for the publishing house; it gives readers a taste of Baker & Taylor’s good books, which could turn them into customers for life.

Anticipate where tomorrow’s fire will occur, rather than fixate on today’s. When facing a crisis, most of us look for the immediate solution. (The old “revenue is down/run a sale” mindset.) But you can’t simply respond to current problems; you have to figure what’s coming next. That’s what prompted Barnes & Noble to create the Nook e-reader. B&N anticipated it would lose the e-book edge if it simply stayed with print books or generated electronic books and sold them through Amazon. So it evolved into an electronics manufacturer.

Wayne Gretsky promoted the importance of this type of anticipation when talking about what made him such a great hockey player. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,” Gretsky said.

Squeeze every possible dollar out of everything you create. Realizing that the old profit model will never return, smart publishers are slicing and dicing new and existing books so they can sell the same content in dozens of ways to appeal to multiple consumers.

Rethink customer interaction. For hundreds of years, book publishing was a one-off business: You printed a book, sold it to some anonymous customer, then moved on to the next book and next nameless customer. Now, with e-books and publishing websites, publishers can nurture relationships with customers that begin before a book is sold and extend far after the sale.

At the recent Digital Book World conference in New York City, one publisher said his company is creating online communities for upcoming books and posting excerpts while the authors are still writing to get avid readers excited.

Another publisher spoke of her company’s use of Internet links in e-books. The links take readers to websites that offer related material for free, as well as opportunities to buy other books. As this publisher said, “Don’t think of an e-book as the end of the sale; think of it as the beginning of engagement.”

Use technology to bolster existing strengths. Publishing houses have always done a good job promoting top authors through books tours, interviews and ads. But now, they’re going a step further. Harper Collins, for example is creating smart phone apps for top authors like Elmore Leonard, and using the apps to extend each author’s brand.

As the folks in the Innovation Gainesville movement have been preaching for two years, our area’s future success is predicated on innovation. But innovation isn’t simply a matter of inventing something new. It’s also a matter of adapting what’s old. If small business owners embrace that, like smart book publishers, we can continue to be successful as the world speeds up around us.

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