Friday, November 14, 2008

Only A Passion for Ideals will Save Publishing

When I think about leadership of any kind, the first trait that comes to my mind is passion.

It seems to me that leaders achieve their position because they project a passion for ideals that are greater than they are. It doesn't matter whether the leader is a presidential candidate, or a programmer in a small startup company. They become leaders NOT because they aspire to lead but because they inspire people to follow their ideals.

The best and brightest people I work with are all passionate about what they do. They care about the minute details. They pontificate about philosophical approaches to problems. They might not always be right (who is?) but that doesn't really matter, we (less passionate) will follow anyway as long as we feel the leaders motivations are aligned with our own.

Looking back, I first fell in love with the book business in the mid 1980's because it was an industry passionate about its role in bringing information, education, and entertainment - thought provoking ideas - to society in a cohesive form. As a whole, the industry had passion for this mission, and was a societal leader. I wanted to be a part of it. It inspired me to start my business to support them in their mission.

But, it has lost its way. Certainly, one reason for our waywardness was the rising imperative that publishing companies be as financially successful as any other type of business. That notion caused a lot of bad blood in the 1990's, but we collectively got over it, and trudged on. Society as a whole has moved toward a superstar mentality where only the thought leaders that have a proven track record have room for success. So, now publishing is following society (because that's where the money is) instead of leading it. It's as though we all gave up, believing that making a profit and bringing thought provoking ideas to society are mutually exclusive paths.

Now it seems that the industry is thinking that technology will possibly save it from the demise that seems to be looming. But using technology to simply do the same thing better, faster, and cheaper is like a band-aid on a stab wound. There is value in stemming the bleeding, but the bleeding will not stop.

In order to turn ourselves around, and again become a leading force in society, we need to remember our mission, and get back our passion for bringing thoughts and ideas into a cohesive form. Books - as we know them today - either printed, or electronic, are but one form. Technology is enabling other forms, and will continue to develop new ones going forward. But, to take advantage of these new enabling forms, publishers need to re-think they way the produce, organize, market and deliver ideas, not just printed products.

Some publishers are starting to think this way, and are moving toward the idea of branding ideas, not just works. But, the industry as a whole is not moving as a cohesive unit. It's moving in pieces. But the reason its moving is NOT because of its passion for the original mission, its moving because of its pursuit of profit.

It's only when we get passionate again, that this industry will again attract the brightest minds who can find creative ways to tackle the challenges that lie ahead. In my ideal of the future, the pursuit of profit and the mission of bringing thought stimulating ideas to society are mutually INCLUSIVE and lie on the same path.

What do you think?

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