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Publishing is dead: long live publishing

One of my favourite tools for business coaching is the industry maturity curve, a simple model that helps clients analyse what phase their market is in: emerging, growth, maturity, or decline. Each phase requires different strategies, and has its own challenges. Playing in a declining market is tough, with intense competition for a dwindling number of customers, but even here it's usually possible to identify a niche that's in its emergent or growth phase; reallocating some resource and strategic focus here can pay huge dividends in positioning the business for the future.  

PWC has just released its regular Global Entertainment and Media Outlook analysis, and it will be no great surprise to anyone that it concludes traditional print publishing is in decline. After all the nonsense spouted recently about ebook sales plateauing it's cheering (though not surprising) that PWC conclude that sector is growing, although as Chris McCrudden points out, the sources of the statistics are opaque, and these reports always do seem to end with an encouraging upward flick: after all, nobody wants to pay for bad news. 

But the full publishing picture is much more complex than this. Traditional publishing, by which I mean a business predicated on revenues derived from the sale of others' content, whether in print or ebook form, is at best mature. There are some very successful, even innovative, players in the space, but taken as a whole and mapped against the industry maturity curve, even the most Pollyanna-ish analyst would have to conclude it's peaked. Look more closely, however, and you'll see a whole new ecosystem of publishing activity starting its slow climb from emergence into growth: publishing services (for authors and organisations), content-based games, content-enabled services, events - wherever there's an appetite for content and/or knowledge, there's a publishing opportunity. 

Much of this growth is happening outside what we have traditionally thought of as ‘the publishing industry’: with the authors and micropublishers, by the organisations creating content as part of a wider marketing strategy, in the niches that were too small to support traditional books, for the people who don't buy books but nevertheless read content every day. 

Publishing has always been a vague word - it simply means 'making public' after all - and the industry has always been a broad church: a journals production editor, a textbook developer and a children's book designer may all be 'in publishing', but professionally they have very little in common. Now that publishing can mean simply putting a blog post live, it's time for publishers to fundamentally reassess their industry and seek out these areas of growth to invest in alongside their traditional models. 

Opportunities for growth are everywhere

There are a million opportunities out there - for publishing and for every mature industry - but they all demand the same approach: an open mind, a strategic mindset, and the humility and flexibility to see what's happening and adapt your offering accordingly.

Tags: strategy | publishing | self-publishing

This entry was posted on 10 June 2014 at 15:08 and is filed under publishing. You can leave a response here.

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