Despite the persistent reports of book publishing as a failing (or flailing) industry, publishers’ best-kept secret is that there is no nail in the coffin.
I know you don’t believe me.
But maybe the people publishing those inspirational business books you like so much actually understand something about running a business.
I know they do because between the publishing clients and the tech clients, it’s not the publishers I’m worried about.
The lessons I see tech startups learning today are ones that the publishing industry imparted to me as early as 1997 when I had my first publishing job as the graphics editor for an online literary magazine called Treeline. (That was 1 year before Google launched.)
In 15 years of working in, or consulting for, the publishing industry, I have watched book publishers leverage technology to do what they have always done, which is to transform themselves and their products to meet consumer demand. Surely an industry designed to disseminate knowledge has wisdom to impart.
Here are 25 lessons I’ve learned—from publishers—about the continuity and survival of technology-enabled businesses:
- Basing your business on government grants is not a revenue model.
- Asking the marketing person/publicist to “see what you can do with this” after the product has been in the market and failed does not lead to success for anyone.
- If you don’t have a core business, spending time on the “latest thing” is not going to improve the situation.
- If you don’t pay your staff, they leave. (More important, money is not a motivating factor, rather reward and opportunity are the reasons behind why people choose to stay.)
- It is smart and prudent to build supporters fast and early.
- People connect to people, not to faceless corporate voices. Get your best personalities out in front of people.
- Measure, learn, improve. Fast and frequently.
- Belly-button gazing—or listening only to your peers who are in the same situation—does not lead to a plan of action. It feels good to bond, but you can do that in the employment line. Run with the winners. Look beyond your industry.
- Being busy is ok. Being busy with the right things makes you money.
- Get people to pay upfront. Use preorders to determine how much to produce and to experiment with what will stick.
- Manage expectations—yours and the customers. The percentage difference between good and great sometimes only matters to you. Overachieve but don’t overextend.
- Word of mouth & permission-based marketing. Sales are driven by other people talking about your stuff. Build your contacts. Reward those contacts. Make sure those contacts are the people who buy your stuff.
- There’s no 4-hour work week. There is just hard work.
- Needing better technology is never the root problem.
- Stay hungry, but make sure you are feeding yourself.
- If you don’t know who your audience is, they won’t find you.
- SEO = discoverability. You need it.
- If you don’t set specific, measurable goals, you won’t know if you’re winning or losing. Cost per acquisition and rate of sales growth are important metrics. Know what your growth curve looks like and how to influence it.
- Know what you’re trying to achieve before picking the tools.
- P&L. Break even point. Do the math. Always.
- Understand the micro actions that influence the macro actions. Marketing indirectly affects sales. Know the common multi-funnel channels that lead to conversions.
- If people won’t pay for your product, produce complimentary things you can sell and give the product away for free, or close to free.
- Price wars are a race to the bottom. Have a plan for selective discounting that rewards your most valuable customers.
- The long tail—it’s not so great if all your products are in the tail.
- There are people willing to do stuff for free, you just need to tap into their motivations for doing so.