Wednesday’s post, Big Six Publishing is Dead made me sad to write. Yes, I am an indie author, but I never have held any malice for New York publishing. I’ve liberally offered ideas, suggestions and help. Still do. I think competition in the market is good for everyone. Yet, the current situation does make me wonder. What went wrong? Why didn’t New York act quickly enough? They saw what happened to music. They saw what happened to Kodak. How could they fall victim to the same problem when they had so much warning?
Actually, it is simple. They were a victim of pride and fear. Why am I writing about this today? Not to beat a dead paradigm, but I think we all can take a huge lesson from this in our own lives. History repeats itself only when we fail to listen.
The same thing that happened to NY publishing can happen to you. It can happen to me. Every day we must really challenge ourselves and be unafraid to ask the hard questions.
Beware of the Defense
I can debate with the best of them. I used to be like trying to have an argument with an attorney. For many years I excelled at being “right.” But I didn’t grow. I didn’t learn. I was a lousy leader and had very few friends.
Oh, but I was “right.”
What I’ve learned through years of hard work and failure and criticism is that being “right” is highly overrated. These days, the second I hear myself defending my position…I know I am wrong. When we have to explain and defend, that is a HUGE sign of trouble. We are all wise to listen for this. Will save a lot of headache.
When NY started having to defend the paper-based paradigm, that was a red flag. So why didn’t they see the red flag? Why is it still SO important to be right?
People will always want paper.
Target Fixation Trouble
What we believe is true is not always true. It takes humility to ask others their opinion because we risk not being seen as “smart.” Pride leads us into believing we know everything.
Years ago, I was in paper sales (a tad bit of irony here). I recall being in a corporate meeting and they were putting together the core marketing plan for 2000. They were going to get the customers lower prices.
I was the only female in the room and about 20 years younger than most of the attendees. They were all older men who’d been in the paper business for decades. I was afraid, but I raised my hand and asked:
“Is this what the customer wants?”
“Of course everyone wants lower prices!”
“Um, well, uh, no Sir. Not always. There are other factors we might be overlooking, like lead-times, customer service, quality, etc.”
So I challenged them to table the marketing plan for two weeks. I would write a survey, and, if all the customers wanted lower prices, then at least we would know “lower prices” was where we needed to be putting our efforts.
Turns out price was rated #4 on the list of what customers felt was important. #1 Lead-Time. They wanted their product as fast as humanly possible.
See, the people who ran my company just assumed they knew what the customer wanted. They never bothered asking and it cost them dearly. Even though the customers almost unilaterally said they wanted faster lead times, my bosses would not approve a second production line that I proposed, and it would have only cost a few thousand dollars. They refused to rent a warehouse in Houston (my other idea) where we could have stored the most popular products and it would have given us the ability to have same-day service.
I even suggested that we get away from filling out orders by hand. Do it on a computer. We could digitize the catalogue to make ordering faster. If we used computers for ordering, it would have synced beautifully with the new SAP system that our customers were integrating.
Nope. Fill out the order sheet by hand. Make everything slooooooooww.
And they lost millions in business. I watched my territory hemorrhage customers. I feel it is part of why my health finally suffered to the point that I had to resign.
Granted the company beating our tails was actually cheaper, but time and time again customers told me they wanted to stay with us. They liked us and had done business with us for years. They preferred our quality. But, time and time again they needed our product FAST and we couldn’t get there. Eventually the customers preferred a less-than-stellar product NOW over a better product in a week.
My company never understood that. They had target fixation…price. It kept them from being innovative.
NY believes it can charge the same price for an e-book as for a hard cover and that people will pay it because of stellar quality. Yet, I might suggest learning from my paper parable. Sometimes a customer will take less quality NOW and CHEAPER over later and better quality. (And, the indies and self-pubs are closing in on having as good of quality if not better).
Can’t See the Stories for the Books
NY has had target fixation–protect the paper book–and it has hindered creativity and innovation. Instead of leading the charge into the Digital Renaissance, they’ve been protecting the Dark Ages with agency pricing and grabbing of author backlists. They were so focused on paper, they failed to see they were in the story and information business…no matter what medium.
New York is suffering from what I call “intellectual inbreeding.” This isn’t an insult. All of us will suffer this and we must take action to bring in outsiders and fresh perspectives in order to keep this syndrome at bay.
When people spend too much time together, they begin to think alike. At first this is really wonderful because it is easier to work as a team and there is a surge in creativity. But, after a while, the creativity begins to taper off. As a group, it is easier to get tunnel-vision and target-fixation.
The Trouble with Being an “Expert”
Experts run into this problem a lot. It is why we need to be willing to ask potentially embarrassing questions. It’s why, ironically and quite paradoxically we need to admit we don’t know everything.
Hey, we’re experts not omnipotent.
We need to be willing to leave the safe shores of our expertise. It is why, at the end of every post I ask for reader opinions. Alone, I can’t know everything. With your help? I can get pretty close, :D.
My opinion? New York thinks too much alike. They have too many “experts.” Publishing is centered in New York and has been for over a century. Everyone knows everyone and they all work closely together. It is why we writers must always be kind and respectful (aside from it being the right thing to do). Why? Because that agent we blast in an e-mail because she rejected us might one day be the editor at the house of our dreams. NY publishing is a close-knit community, to say the least.
Which is why it is at a disadvantage.
It isn’t that the folks in New York aren’t brilliant, wonderful people, but their very environment leads to group think. It is easy to become more interested in defending what is, than to think of what could be. I can appreciate the conundrum. How would I feel if I had to envision a world where my colleagues would be out of a job?
The Future is Ours to Shape
Yet, the sad part is they didn’t have to be out of a job. When we are brave enough to face the future, even the scary parts, we can make a plan. We have more power when we face fear and kick it out of the driver’s seat.
The folks in New York could have been retooling personnel. Teach them how to format and be the best dang digital formatters in the business. If e-books were in the future, then by gum, NY would lead the charge.
But they didn’t and I don’t know how steep the consequences will be. They started making fear-based decisions, which never work out well. They may be making some changes now, but the problem is those changes are three years too late.
Many of those in New York are feeling the way many Americans are feeling. In the factory model, we are replaceable, usually by machines or people in other countries willing to worker harder, longer and for less pay. This why it is SO critical now of all times to be proactive, innovative, creative and remarkable.
Top-down decision-making is a dead paradigm. Regular people have a hand in shaping our future.
Creativity Needs Fresh Blood and Brutal Honesty
Creativity and innovation are easier when we bring in those with a fresh perspective who have nothing to lose by offering us honesty. I feel New York can’t see the forest for the trees, and they have underestimated the intelligence of “outsiders.” Has happened to me on Twitter quite a few times. I’m not in NY so I don’t understand. *shrugs* Okay.
I think that publishing could benefit greatly by giving their toughest problems to outsiders. Eli Lilly did it with InnoCentive. Heck, I do it with the WANAs. Some of the best solutions come from everyday people. Sometimes us “experts” get a little blinded by our “expertness.”
It is a remarkable time we live in. We are in the Digital Renaissance. But as the world grows more and more complex, so do the problems. It is taking more than one mind to solve the present problems. All the low-hanging fruit is gone and we need to reach higher. Even writers. We can take a lesson. We need each other.
The 20th century was the Age of the Individual. The Digital Age is the Age of the Collective. We must form teams and work together or we are toast. We are in a global economy with global problems, so we need global solutions. We need each other. We need to be more creative than ever in human history. To do this, we have to be humble enough to admit we don’t know everything and open to outside help.
As this world changes and grows and presents challenges never seen, we have to remember We Are Not Alone. Even you, New York.
So what do you guys think? I think the Big Six is dead, but Madonna, Britney Spears and Robert Downey Jr prove resurrection is possible. Industries have been known to reinvent and come back stronger. Do you think this is possible? Or is it too far gone?
What about your own lives? How do you keep creativity and innovation fresh? Have you been the victim of your own tunnel-vision and need to be right? What are your thoughts?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Winner of last week 5 page critique–Mona Karel. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.
Winner of 15 page critique for April is Heidi Thomas. Please send your 3250 word Word document to the same e-mail.
***IMPORTANT MESSAGE–For those who have not gotten back pages. My web site fiasco has been responsible for eating a lot of e-mails. Additionally I get about 400 e-mails a day and the spam folder has a healthy appetite too. It is hard to tell since some people never claim their prize, but I could have very well just not seen your entry. Feel free to e-mail it again and just put CONTEST WINNER in the header so I can spot you easily. (especially if your message is kidnapped by the spam filter).
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.