Publishing needs to learn from Music (but probably won’t)

Giff Constable media, technology


I had an enjoyable lunch the other week with a former client in the book publishing industry. It got me thinking how publishing is tremendously lucky to have a lesson plan of what not to do laid out by the music industry.  The question is whether they learn the lessons, or will they fall into the trap of DRM and obsession over price protection.

The music industry might argue that their aggressive tactics slowed the decline in record sales, but I think it served as a bad distraction that alienated large portions of their customer base.  Instead, music companies should have: 1. focused on how free music strategies could spur music sales; 2. gotten more aggressive on diversifying revenue streams.  IP businesses won’t make all their money from controlling the sales and distribution of IP anymore, but rather from many smaller sources.

The new e-books are a hit.  Digital books are going to grow, and if hardware remains a competitive market, openness and portability will win.  Both electronics manufacturers and book publishers need to focus less on control over IP and maintaining price levels, and more on growing the overall market through social media word of mouth, book sharing, discovery, etc.  However, this is a tall ask for a slow moving industry that has not had to change for a very long time.  I suspect it will take a generational change amongst leadership.

Authors, Diversify Your Revenue Sources
Authors, like musicians, are going to need to think much more aggressively about alternative revenue sources.  Rather than relying on the sale of content itself, artists have to create lots of smaller income streams.  Musicians now make money from live performances, exclusive fan interactions, merchandise, premium packaging, brand sponsorship, etc.

amandapalmerAuthors need to start thinking the same way wherever possible. Some of this already takes place with movie rights, merchandising around children’s books, and consulting or speaking gigs, but all this will need to expand, get more creative, and spread across the different sectors of publishing.  Authors should be looking closely at music startups like Topspin, and their focus on leveraging technology, analytics, and premium product offerings.  They should also look closely at musician innovators like Amanda Palmer in terms of how to embrace fans.

Of course, musicians tend to be more extroverted in nature (save, perhaps for classical and maybe jazz), so perhaps the new heros for authors are going to be their agents and the entrepreneurial efforts of folks like CAA, William Morris Endeavor, and aggressive new entities.

All this reminds me to go pick up Jeff Jarvis’ new book.