Did Business Analyst & Best-Selling Author Jim Collins Get It Wrong for Publishers?

By Michael Foy, President of Publishing Search Solutions


In my last article I cited Jim Collins studies of how great companies can recognize when they’re losing their way and how to get back on track. His conclusions were published in his book ‘How the Mighty Fall; And Why Some Companies Never Give In’. In it, he revealed the tell tale stages of a decline. The subject of this post concerns the first of those five stages or Hubris. Excessive pride can be the first sign of trouble for businesses in various industries as Jim suggests but I submit that the publishing industry in recent times may be a special case.

Is it believable that publishers would experience excessive pride as their first sign of a decline? It seems that there are other more contemporary indicators that a course correction is needed. Armed with this hypothesis I sought the opinions of executives who offered some well considered observations on what they see as the early signs of a decline. Here’s some of what they said.

Publishing tends to still operate in arcane ways. It can be easy to fall into arcane, or legacy thinking, when strategizing or even pricing. One needs to guard against it constantly.

Instead of pride some cited a tendency to ignore signs of a changing environment. Publishers have been more vigilant lately on how consumers drive content delivery changes.

The Internet came up many times as another potential pitfall among executives in businesses that sell ad space. Some Publishers have created strategies to compile more content to make up for reduced advertising income.

In the education market, Common Core was cited as an obvious challenge. This program shrunk the Supplemental market and made it more competitive. To cope large publishers have re-invented themselves in some cases by selling off non performing arcane parts.

Nowadays, skill sets to get books discovered is paramount said one executive. A teamwork approach coordinates the multitude of skills necessary for success.

Digital was confirmed to be a major challenge in the non-fiction trade market. Exceptions, however, were the ‘How To’ books where consumers were less interested in going digital.

Most agree that our industry is in a correction and that we’re only now becoming ‘smart’ about publishing as a business. On occasion I’ve been happy to facilitate that progress by importing ‘smart’ candidates and placing them on a rewarding career path in publishing. The trick is to find, vet and attract those candidates from either inside or outside the industry.

In spite of Jim Collin’s thorough work on determining the stages of a company’s decline, hubris was hardly cited at all as the reason for Publishers’ difficulties. But whether it’s pride or something else that threatens a Publisher’s success some remedial plan is needed. To execute that plan Jim Collins verifies in his studies that one must have the right people in the right seats. Then one must continue to add the right people to grow and build on that success. After all publishing hasn’t and won’t go away. There’ll always be a need for content to inform, educate or entertain.