For Publishers: Lessons from the Tech Industy on Survival

trilobites, © kevinzim, Creative Commons Attribution License

This is not going to be a nice post. Then again, many articles of late all around concerning the publishing industry’s survival haven’t been nice.

I make my meager living in a viciously competitive environment. To put it politely to the Big Publishing Five, for the last several decades you were never in as much danger as the Big Tech companies were in their infancy… and still are.

Not even giants like Microsoft, who strides the tech world as unto a Colossus, are ever truly safe. ((If you think being threatened by Linux is no big deal, just remember: IBM can eat Microsoft for breakfast, and is extremely interested in Linux….))

I’ll let that sink in.

“Old gods do new jobs.” — Neil Gaiman, Sandman

Microsoft now does advertising. Amazon decided to host cloud computing services. Google now has a thriving book department of their own. Apple invented the iPod. Oracle created bought a programming language. ((They ate Sun Microsystems. Who specialized in Unix operating systems, then decided to invent the Java language.))

These companies respectively used to specialize in software, selling stuff, search, computer hardware, and databases. Why change? Change isn’t cheap (and developers are definitely not small change in terms of upkeep).

We change because, in our world, competition develops very quickly. Thanks to lower barriers to entry and a nimbleness for innovation, the tech industry is a constant Cambrian Explosion, and we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.


Reflections on the Arctic Sea, © wili_hybrid, Creative Commons Attribution License

Now you’re in a similar boat. Like it or not, you’re now in an industry full of ecological pressures. These aren’t just your competition. Sometimes they’re your very own customers, who get tired of putting up with you when someone offers a better deal. Sometimes it’s the entire industry ecosystem changing (hello Bill Gates, think so little of the Internet anymore? ((Yeah, that’s very 90’s, I know.)) ).

Change and diversification: learn to love it.

Mostly that means you should stop whining and start thinking out of the box and, you know, doing stuff about it. You never heard Amazon whine about eBay; you never heard Oracle fret over C#, a direct and successful competitor to Java; you never heard Apple keening about Microsoft or vice versa; Google acknowledges that Yahoo’s got certain markets in Asia under nigh-unshakable control but doesn’t lose it in public.

Instead, they make plans. And execute them.

Electrolux Trilobite, © patapat, Creative Commons Attribution License