Publishers: Embrace Your Journey

In the movie Forrest Gump, there is a scene where Captain Dan (played by Gary Sinise) has reached his wits end. His life didn’t pan out as he expected, he felt he had a destiny, but instead, his journey took a different course. For years, he fought it, bitter.

Dan Blank
When he reaches rock bottom, he is in the middle of a hurricane stuck out at sea on a boat. He climbs to the top of the mast, and challenges mother nature. For years, he rejected his journey, but suddenly, he is full of drive.

He survives the storm, and it becomes a catalyst for him to accept how things are, not how he expected them to be. And he moves on, building a fruitful life with what he has. In the end, he becomes wealthy, finds love, and even overcomes a disability.

In the same regard, publishers and media companies need to embrace change, not fight it and wish for “what they thought the future would be.”

I know that there are many in publishing who are working towards change, who are experimenting with new formats, new products, and new ways of relating to their audience.

But often, those people don’t get the support that is required to really turn the ship. They do great things with very few resources, but progress is slow. The problem with eeking along on one’s journey reluctantly is that it focuses on the wrong things.

The hero’s journey is less about the destination, than the journey itself. What we learn about ourselves, those around us, and the larger context of the world we live in.

What if Frodo never left The Shire?
What if Dorothy never left Kansas?
What if Luke never left Tattooine?

And if you think these are just fictional stories that don’t relate to the real-world challenges of shifting an industry the size of publishing, then consider: What if Steve Jobs sat home and counted his millions when he was fired from Apple in 1985, and never continued on his journey? What if Jeff Bezos never got in that car to Seattle, writing Amazon.com’s business plan on the way?

Be wary of the excuse of protecting existing business models. Because that can prevent a business from understanding their audience, and the scope of the world around them. It can prevent them from uncovering real value, real solutions, and real meaning in their industry.

Every week, I get to meet smart passionate people who work in publishing and media. People who are looking to the future, and appreciating the amazing things that are happening in the present. Some publishers have the vision. Some publishers have been experimenting with new media. In some ways, nearly all publishers are ‘working on it,’ trying to evolve carefully.

But the future is coming, quickly. Your audience is changing their behaviors, quickly. And new competitors are encroaching, quickly.

When considering your future, and the journey you are on, consider: If not now, when?

Let me know if I can help you as you make your way down that road: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

What Publishers Can Learn From The Godfather

I watched The Godfather parts 1 and 2 last week, and realized how many layers I had missed when viewing them growing up. The movies had me considering how institutions are built, and how they are destroyed. And of course, this had me considering the current climate in the publishing and media worlds.

Dan Blank
I’ll simplify the movies as a juxtaposition between two people:

  1. Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) built and ran an empire by balancing harsh tactics with community balance. He understood that for his family to succeed, that he had to leave room for other families to succeed. He knew when to be strike and when to compromise. For instance, he didn’t seek revenge of the death of his eldest son in order to avoid an all out war.
  2. His son Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) destroyed that same empire by trying to control without sharing. Again and again, Michael’s tactics are of someone who requires others to align to what he wants, or face dire consequences. This, regardless of their loyalty, their standing in the community, their bloodline or any other ramifications. Michael is quick to start an all out war between the families. This, of course, is one of many decisions that leads to his downfall.

As media companies struggle to find revenue growth and relevance in the digital world, I can’t help but thinking that there are lessons from The Godfather. Lessons that the music industry failed to recognize.

Again and again, record labels passed on opportunities, but attacked those who pursued them. They limited the ways consumers could engage with music, even as the world around them changed. As a surprising last-ditch effort, they sued fans. Not big time bootleggers, but individual fans. Instead of learning from these behaviors, they attacked the very people they needed most, the lifeblood of the music industry.

And today, the music business sits alone in the boathouse, reflecting on what could have been, had they only acted differently.

Media exists within an ecosystem, where the needs of many must be considered. That upstarts have a place in this world, and that if one institution chooses to fight them, then we all lose.

Book publishers are busy trying to figure out digital books, experimenting with digital-rights-management, trans-media, e-readers and the like. My fear is that this will become a winner-take-all scenario like the VHS and Beta battle a few decades back. (And that’s a shame, because Beta was such a better product, even though they lost the war.)

One interesting example, as usual, is Apple. They created entire economies around their products that encouraged new companies and new products to come into being. Their App Store is indicative of this – it is a new form of marketplace. Apple even designs their gadgets with tons of room for third-parties to develop accessories for them, such as iPhone cases. It’s as if Apple deliberately designs products that are easily scratched or shattered, and offers incredibly poor cases of their own, specifically so that third parties can offer “solutions” and inventive cases and accessories.

This doesn’t make Apple some kind of hippy, communal company. They are well known for their closed and controlling tactics.

I have no interest in trying to figure out who is Don Vito and who is Michael in the media world, and I don’t mean to make too much of The Godfather metaphor. It’s just a movie, and one based on a world where crime and murder is a common practice. šŸ™

But, I do think it makes sense for media companies to better understand the interests, goals and behaviors of those in their entire ecosystem.

Let me know if I can help you in transitioning your business & career: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

Don’t Wait for the Right Opportunity, Publish NOW.

Have you ever worked with someone who didn’t give 100%. Often, these people had passion and talent, but were waiting for the RIGHT opportunity before they really exerted themselves. So, job after job, they gave a half-hearted effort, and quit at the slightest sign of hard work because they felt it wasn’t worth their time.

They had dreams, they had the ability, but they rarely flexed that muscle.

Dan BlankFor instance, I worked with a waiter years ago who joked around, messed up orders, rarely smiled, and never went out of his way to help a customer. When I got to know him, I found out he was really a pretty talented guy, had some interesting goals, but felt frustrated that he hadn’t found the right opportunity yet.

So he languished as a waiter in the same restaurant for years.

What could he have done differently? Instead of waiting until he had a job that was worth his best effort, he should have just given it his all:

  • Acted and presented himself like a professional.
  • Put smiles on the faces of his customers in unexpected ways.
  • Impressed his manager by offering to do things before asked.
  • Gotten to know his customers, building relationships one order at a time.
  • Supported his co-workers (both new and old), by sharing, giving & helping.

Why should he have put in all of this effort? Because our lives can be shaped in surprising ways by others. Many peopleĀ get their jobs because of people they know, and they meet their significant others through similar means. John Lennon put it this way: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

I’ll bet you’ve seen similar things in your career, in a variety of different companies and roles. When we are stuck in a place we aren’t happy, why not give it our all? Why not develop a network around ourselves, develop our skills, and maximize the opportunity right in front of us, instead of waiting for something else to come along. Because this is the alternative:

How will anyone know how capable you are if you don’t develop your skills and prove that you are worthy of the opportunities they can give you?

It’s like the old saying: “The harder I worked, the luckier I got.”

So, what does this mean if you are a writer, an editor, a journalist, a creator of any kind?Ā It means: PUBLISH NOW. However you can, wherever you can.

Blog. Tweet. Comment. Share. Help.

It means jumping into social media when you don’t feel ready. It means trying new formats when you don’t quite understand them yet. It means going out of your way to help others.

Doing so will grow your skills – forcing you to create and assist more often, and to confront the fear many of us have of putting ourselves in front of an audience or in an unfamiliar situation.

Publishing as often as you can also grows your network, and proves your value. Think you are writing incredible science fiction stories? Publish them on a blog.Ā Think you are an expert in Dart Frog breeding habits, and hoping for a book deal? Publish now in any way you can.

And even beyond sharing: HELP. Publishing is no longer about the content, it is about the connection.

Let me know if I can help YOU: @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan