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A Tale of Two Strategies

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The late great Ian Norrie, famed Bookseller of Old Hampstead, used to write a regular column in the long departed Publishing News trade magazine. Ian kept going with the column long after he stopped bookselling and in the end his regular tirades against, for example, his local Post Office began to show he’d finally lost touch with the very reason his opinions had originally held relevance for the readership. And so it is with some trepidation that I continue to talk of corporates and their respective cultures many months after having shuffled off into start-up land. But while I can make an observation, it is this.

There seem to me to be emerging two distinct strategic styles amongst the bigger players.

There are those who run a steady ship. If we all keep looking straight ahead guys, and keep doing what we know we are good at, it’ll all be fine. Every now and then a business-altering supernova will explode and we’ll exploit the rights as we have legions of acquirers spilt across a myriad of imprints or channels. We will outlive smaller, medium sized and even some large opposition because we do not deviate from our chosen path. We grow by acquisition. If we are ever enveloped in publishing’s equivalent of a nuclear winter, we will survive alongside the cockroaches and WH Smith.

And then there are those who see that the world we are operating in will never be the same again. The genie is out of the bottle. So you need to make steps simultaneously in all sorts of direction that will lead you through an evolutionary process. You believe in the purity of single brands and their capacity to represent the generic. You de-risk some of your IP gambles by working with external brands, by thinking about content and publishing in a totally different way. You don’t just collaborate but you make collaboration easy.

For too long collaboration has been a polite way of saying we want to understand what you do and then fuck you over. But the indies have taught the bigger leviathans a thing or two about collaboration. There is profit in fleet-footed alliance. There is competitive advantage in making it attractive for two parties to play ball. Stand up Stephen Page for stretching the ever-elastic Faber brand.

Let battle commence. I’m off to the Post Office…

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