Thursday, July 26, 2007

What do you call "Digital Strategy"?

So, what's your answer?

Having spent a significant amount of time talking to publishers about this recently, I'm really surprised at how diverse the answers to this question are. Maybe its the word "strategy" that throws people... But, many of the answers I've gotten to this question, seem alot more tactical than strategic.

I was discussing this topic with a colleague over lunch the other day, and he likened this situation to when 'Content Management' was all the rage, but everyone had a different definition of that as well. But, as the technology started to mature, the definitions for Content Management and Digital Asset Management seem to iron themselves out.

So, I guess we're just not their yet on this question. As with Content Management, it will probably take a few years before everyone is on the same page with 'Digital Strategy'. One thing is for sure though, Digital Strategy is a hot topic these days, and an elite group of individuals in the industry is working very hard to come up to speed and establish standards for the rest of us to follow.

Most of the "tacticians" I've spoken with, seem to focus on creating XML, as if that is the entirety of a digital strategy. Others focus on simply getting their print products into digital form. Some really don't have any idea what their strategy is, but they think that they need to archive their backlists and store them in some type of repository, so that when the market reveals itself, they will be prepared to spring. Others simply think that producing ebook versions of all of their printed product is a viable strategy that someday will pay back something.

But the true strategists, like my friend, Fritz Foy, from Holtzbrinck, think of the technology in a much broader context.

In a meeting with Fritz today, he reiterated Holtzbrinck's strategy to use digital forms of their content as a way to attract the online reading public - which, he points out, is much larger than the 'book reading public'. Fritz was elaborating on a theme that his boss, Brian Napack, has discussed during two recent presentations, one at BEA, and the other at the Tools of Change conference.

Speaking of Tools of Change, the folks at O'Reilly seem to have several strategies related to 'digital products'. Having heard their presentations a couple of times now, my best description of their strategy is to use their content to create and empower technology communities who will spend big money on other services (like conferences).

It seems amazing to me just how different 'strategy' feels compared to 'tactics'. The tactical companies seem to be taking approaches that inspire very little creativity or excitement. The strategic companies seem to open up all manner of ideas and opportunities, and they are very exciting. So exciting - to me - that I think they may even transform our industry in such a positive way as to save it from the slow but relentless decline that it has been facing.

So, one last time, what's your digital strategy?

Friday, July 13, 2007

When distant colleagues pass

I was hit hard today by the obituary I read in Publishers Weekly today for Perry Knowlton.

It's impossible to say that I knew him well, or that we were ever close. In fact, I don't think I've seen or heard of him in more than 15 years. Yet, today's news inspired feelings similar to what I felt when a close uncle recently passed away.

When I first started Quality Solutions in 1988, about the only mechanism I had for marketing our services was to attend BISAC meetings. After being involved with BISAC for about a year, Carol Mann approached the BISAC committee seeking a solution to the nagging problem that author royalty statements were all so dissimilar, and usually impossible to believe.

Having just spent the better part of the preceding four years building royalty systems for the likes of Random House, William Morrow, and Prentice Hall, this was an area where I thought I could help. So, the BISAC Royalty Statement Subcommittee was formed, and I was it's first chair.

It was through this work that I met Perry. Perry, and Curtis Brown were kind enough to host our meetings. While I was 'technically' the chair of the committee, there was no doubt who was in charge of the meetings. For a young man (at the time), Perry was larger than life. He inspired an incredible level of respect from everyone around him. I remember distinctly how it seemed like everyone who worked at Curtis Brown would stop what they were doing when he passed through a room. It was like something in a movie from the 1950's.

In the PW obituary, Perry's son, Timothy, was quoted, "To his family, friends and colleagues, he was always a dedicated mentor, advocate, enthusiast and enabler. He was one of the few true ‘renaissance men’ I've ever known." I've never met Timothy, but what he said here is more eloquent than anything I could ever come up with. Perry was all of these things - to me, personally - during that brief period of 2 or 3 years when the committee hammered out the first version of the standard royalty statement.

After that first version of the royalty statement standard was completed, I left the committee in the capable hands of Judy Appelbaum, and I had no further reason to be in contact with Perry or anyone else on that committee.

My sincerest condolences go out to all of Perry's family. I am sure that everyone who ever had the pleasure of working with him would agree that Perry was one of those individuals who make society stronger, just for being part of it. The world is a bit weaker today for his passing.