Publishers Needs To Invest in People, Not Platforms

Much of the publishing world seems to be in debate over platforms, business models and technical details of eBooks, ad formats, and mobile content delivery, among other things.

Dollars are flowing towards building these platforms, marketplaces, and channels; towards building SYSTEMS that will hopefully scale, ushering in a new age of publishing and media.

And that’s fine.

But sometimes I feel as though we aren’t focusing enough on one critical factor for the future of publishing: developing the capabilities of the those around us. For example, creating mentorship programs to invest in PEOPLE, not THINGS.

For any company, it’s tempting to focus on systems and not people. Systems scale. Systems can be given catchy names, and used in conversation at corporate expense account lunches. Systems can be mentioned in press releases and magazine articles as symbols of how a company is moving forward. They look good on your resume. But oftentimes, I find that the ceiling for a system’s potential is very low, while the potential for developing an individual has no ceiling at all.

Ideas fail. Trends come and go. Technology becomes obsolete. But people have no limits. Invest in a person, and there is no telling what can be achieved.

So why do companies again and again focus on platforms and systems, and not their employees, partners, and customers? Well, oftentimes, it’s because of ownership and fear. Businesses invest in THINGS, in systems, because that system can’t quit and go to the competition. That system can’t take sides with a different VP in the company, shifting internal political power. A system fits into a spreadsheet, a person doesn’t.

So we justify that it is easier to “hire the best and brightest” and lay them off at the slightest sign of financial insecurity. So the “platform” is the stable entity in many companies, and the workers flow in and out depending on that quarter’s financial numbers.

We can do better than this.

Here’s an example: There is a program that I find fascinating that does invest in people, while also investing in the financial future of their industry. It’s a seed capital organization called TechStars, that invests in startups each year. Yes, they are investing in business ideas, but more than anything, they are investing in PEOPLE. When a group of entrepreneurs enter their program, the idea itself will likely change, but TechStars realizes that smart people are an invaluable asset to fund and be connected to. Smart people scale. I don’t mean 20% year over year growth kind of scale, I mean turning an idea on a napkin into hundreds of millions of dollars kind of scale. Then, doing it again.

TechStars jumpstarts startups – gives them a program, tons of mentors, and helps them focus and develop ideas. They provide connections that are hard to come by, and end up creating a community that feels compelled to give back – a group who will be lifelong resources. They are investing in people, not cutting them to increase profit margins.

(To learn more about TechStars. Watch their incredibly engaging series of videos that follows each “class” as it goes through their program.)

We are told that business economics needs to overlook the touchy-feely nature of caring too much about people; That we need to focus on scaling products and identifying growing markets; That platforms and systems will save publishing; That we aren’t supposed to care about the cycle of layoffs of poor training & development opportunities for employees; That this is just a fact of life in the hard-edged business world.

But I’ll say it again – we can do better than this.

Publishers need to ask themselves: what are we building? A platform or a community? A marketplace full of products, or one filled with amazingly talented people?