Survival of the entrepreneur

Survival of the entrepreneur

We would all not survive the year 2012. But, since you're reading this, the opposite is true. Of course, The Mayan calendar with its predictions inflated to mythical proportions, was pure nonsense. That I use this moment however to prelude my plea, is because I did expect last year to be the beginning of the end for the book as we knew it. That was however not quite the case. It has no doubt that our industry suffered a severe blow by the bankruptcy of one of the big Dutch distributors: Libridis. One that has had (or will have) a huge impact on some of the Dutch publishers. And one of the largest bookstore chains, Selexyz, almost went in the same direction, but managed to resurrect from the ashes and for now continues to do business with an altered vision and strategy. But still, you couldn’t speak of a mass slaughter of publishers and booksellers last year.

Indeed, still. Because I do expect that this is merely a reprieve, and that the real tough times for the book world are yet to come. What 2012 showed us, is merely a prelude. And a decline of the market of over 6% is just the beginning. And that's a raw deal we have to face. But for those who know me a little, also know that I do not think in terms of fears and threats, but in terms of opportunities and possibilities. And that is not any different right now, and I would like to convey everyone to do the same.

Because those who want to survive in a market that is increasingly under pressure because of the crisis, the rise of digital and changing consumer behaviour, more than ever, need to do their very best. No longer can you hide behind the status of being the gatekeeper, or that you are an inevitable link in the chain others simply cannot ignore to pass. These are no longer certainties. Right now, everything has its alternative. Alternatives which are sometimes easier, faster, cheaper or simply better. And if it doesn’t exist yet, it will in the near future. So, if you want to survive, if you want to continue doing business, you will, more than ever, need to prove your added value. Whether you are a publisher, bookseller, librarian, printing house or any other part of the chain as we knew it, you’re existence is no longer automatically guaranteed.

Added value, it sounds so easy, but is incredibly difficult. Because, what does it mean? What makes that people prefer you over any other? For me, there are roughly two paths to follow: be the best of the best in that what you do, or broaden your horizon. And it’s best if you manage to do them both. The first one, I hope, speaks for itself, and is something you simply must do. Do that what you do, what you've always done, in the best possible way. Make sure that you do not weaken, that you will keep on learning and that you are focusing on continuous improvements in your quality and service. The second one is perhaps not for everyone, but I strongly recommend that you at least investigate it. The chance of your survival is much greater if you dare to be an entrepreneur. Because chances are, that the thing you do, what you've always done and where you are (still) really good at as well, is not enough to continue your business like you were used to. And if that’s becoming reality, you should do something else. But what? And that is where the true entrepreneur inside of you should rise and make a step forward. He or she who knows how to expand their activities, how to broaden or deepen their activities in ways that were not previously explored, has an even greater chance to secure their future.

Take for example the CB (the largest distributor in The Netherlands). They’ve claimed the domain of e-book distribution a few years ago, and successfully so. And at this moment, they use the empty spaces in their warehouses for products other than books alone. And there are already booksellers who not only sell books anymore. You can buy their entire inventory, or they have a coffee corner or even a complete lunchroom integrated in their store, or they dare to embrace digital (by selling e-readers and e-book gift cards) instead of fighting it. There are already publishers who think in titles instead of books (which is a huge difference in terms of having the right mindset), who, in addition to the print book and e-book also dare to experiment with other product forms and business models and are also not afraid in crossing their own country borders with them.

Of course, not every new activity is equally successful to everyone. It is simply impossible to predict this in advance. It will be a matter of experimentation. A matter of daring to entrepreneur. And those who dare to, are the ones who are most likely to survive. 2013 will be the book world’s year of the entrepreneur.