A manifesto for flexing the publishing model

A manifesto for flexing the publishing model

"Ultimately, publishing comes down to six irreducible elements." And in laying out those elements for us in her FutureBook 2015 manifesto, it takes publishing consultant Alison Jones only to element No. 4, a "carrier," to find herself writing, "It always amazes me how many people still formulate the debate on the future of publishing as a straight choice between print and ebook." The hamhanded nature of that blunt discussion, she sets aside quickly for something agile, lithe, textured: "What's more interesting is what we're doing digitally." Hear, hear. Hear her. Jones knows the secret: "The commercial IS the creative."—Porter Anderson

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'To be able to flex'

If publishers are to build a future worth having, they need not only to continue doing what they do really well, but also to seize the right opportunities (which will be different for each company) to add new revenue streams in growth markets to layer on declining revenues in old markets.

To be able to flex, we need to see past the incidental technology, systems, partnerships and processes we built for the old model and which have come to define us.

Ultimately, publishing comes down to six irreducible elements:

  • Cause – the reason(s) for making content public. To entertain, to inform, to inspire, to build a career or a brand, to make money, to promote an idea, whatever.
  • Creator – the individual, group or entity. who or which creates the content in the first place.
  • Content – text, traditionally, but also images, audio, video, animations, infographics, data, code, etc etc. (And metadata, the content about the content, the stuff that makes the content meaningful to machines.)
  • Carrier – whatever carries the content. It always amazes me how many people still formulate the debate on the future of publishing as a straight choice between print and ebook. Print is a great technology, it’s finding its niche in the new landscape nicely. What’s more interesting is what we’re doing digitally: the ebook is only a tiny fraction of what online content is about. Online there are infinite possibilities depending on the cause and the content – elearning, interactive text, collaborative text, apps, databases, games, and all the stuff we haven’t even thought of yet. The carrier also includes the channel – the online retailer, the library aggregator, the app store – and the device on which the content is consumed. It’s a package, and it used to be a relatively simple, well-understood package, but now the permutations seem endless and subject to change on a daily basis.
  • Consumer – ultimately, someone has to want to consume the content to make this thing work, whether that’s an institution or an individual. Whether they’re prepared to pay for it is a different matter, which brings us to:
  • Commercial model - how can publishers maintain a sustainable business now they’ve lost their monopoly on distribution, now consumers are afloat in a sea of mostly free content? I believe the answer lies in diversifying commercial models, and particularly in incorporating service provision.

'The commercial IS the creative'

When you strip the industry back to these irreducible principles, it’s clear there can be innumerable values for those variables, and an infinite number of possible permutations.

Here’s my definition of a publisher: the entity that organizes these elements. The publisher clarifies the cause, works with the creator to make the best possible content, decides on the best carriers and the right commercial models to reach the right consumer.

The creativity is not just in the creation of the content, it’s in the organizing of the elements to create the most effective outcome – the commercial IS the creative.

Is flexing difficult?


But it could be the strategic shift that saves your company, that positions you to survive and evolve in the future.

You say disruption, I say unprecedented opportunity.

Ultimately people don’t care about products or services, they care about outcomes; for publishers with the imagination and the will to make the leap, there are more ways than ever to deliver those outcomes.

This is another entry in our series of "Five-Minute Manifestos" for The Future of the Book Business. In his article Those magnificent manifestos, The Bookseller editor Philip Jones revisited his call for the FutureBook community to reflect on five years of the digital dynamic, "to challenge the customs we have begun to adopt." The response has been robust, and we thank all our manifesto writers. See their articles here.

As we add more in this series, our most recently published #FutureBook15 manifestos are:

Main image - iStockphoto: LanaK