Changing the Publishing Model

If you are in the publishing industry or have been reading my blog, you probably know that effective April 1, we eliminated all twenty-one of our company’s “imprints.”*

Team rowing a boat

Over the course of this past year, we “rolled up” all of our publishing brands into the singular “Thomas Nelson” brand. (In other industries, this is sometimes referred to as a “brand consolidation.”) We also reorganized by consumer categories.

Yesterday, a reader named Mike wrote to me. He said that he was giving a speech at an upcoming book trade show. He wanted to reference our company as a case study. He said,

Your new organizational principle makes a lot of sense to me. Is it too soon to see any benefits or are there any you might mention that I can repeat in my speech?

I discussed some of the benefits in Imprints: An Endangered Species. The current issue of Christian Retailing (May 21, 2007) quoted extensively from this post under the headline, “Imprints an ‘endangered species,’ says Nelson head: but other Christian publishers disagree, adding that they ‘won’t go away anytime soon’.”

I don’t mind disagreement; I welcome it. Frankly, we need more controversy in our industry. There’s been way too much “group think” for too long. And, I respect the ones disagreeing, particularly Dwight Baker, whom I respect as a smart and savvy publisher. (We also serve together on ECPA’s Board of Directors.)

I guess I really can’t comment on what is best for other publishers; maybe there are some unique situations where imprints make sense. (I can acknowledge it as a theoretical possibility!) But, by and large, I think most publishers would do well to question their existence and ask whether or not they still make sense.

But with regard to Mike’s question, so far—and admittedly, it’s early in the process—we have seen four benefits in eliminating our imprints:

  1. A simplified business model. I don’t think any of us realized how much energy and money we were spending to maintain an organizational and branding infrastructure that added zero value to our customers. It’s one of those chronic situations that develop in organizations where you stop feeling the pain and just learn to cope. Then, when it’s gone, you suddenly notice how much better you feel. In my opinion, imprints add very little value and lots of complexity.
  2. Better internal collaboration. Imprints created and perpetuated internal “silos” By eliminating them, all of our employees (okay, most of them) realize they are on the same team. People feel liberated to ask for help from others within the company. Everyone is “rowing in the same direction.” I think the future is going to belong to people with a collaborative rather than competitive mindset (see, e.g., Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything and The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations).
  3. Greater consumer focus. With the imprint model, we had a great deal of duplication. For example, we had three different imprints publishing health and fitness books. Now we have specific teams focused on selected categories or consumer needs. Editorial, marketing, and sales professionals are absorbing everything they can about those categories. There is no overlap. We are developing subject matter and market expertise. I can already see the impact on the quality of new publishing proposals and marketing plans. We are more focused on the market and less focused on ourselves.
  4. More market visibility. When we had twenty-one imprints, our visibility was fragmented. We appeared smaller to the market than we really are. We are the sixth largest trade publisher in America, but I think most industry professionals wouldn’t even put us in the top twenty. With one imprint, we are making an exponentially greater impact on the market. Just image seven hundred new titles a year hitting the shelves with one logo rather than twenty-one different logos. If nothing else, we are affecting the perception of the retailers who stock the shelves.

Again, I know it’s early in the process. The “jury is still out,” so to speak. Nevertheless, for us, I feel it was the right move at the right time.

* If you are not a publisher, this may be a foreign term. It simply refers to the “brand” under which publishers issue various books. Many larger publishers—and even some smaller ones—maintain numerous publishing divisions as a sort of portfolio. Each division has its own name, logo, staff, and editorial focus.

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  • Jeff

    Mike-
    I am intrigued by your item number 2 “Better internal collaboration”. I am the collaboration architect for a large financial services corporation. I was originally hired about a year ago to help them get a specific collaboration technology “under control”. The result a year later is that there is now an amazing focus on the benefits of “open collaboration” among all members of our organization. This presents certain curious implications when FTC rules come into play. I would be very curious to hear more about how you foster a climate of collaboration among your employees and how your help to educate them on how to communicate appropriately in this forum. Also, if you could speak to the tools or methodologies that TN uses, I would appreciate it.

    Thanks-

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Jeff,

    The good news for us is that we are no longer a public company. We went private last summer, so that made it easier to share knowledge within the company.

    In terms of tools, we are just getting up and running with Sharepoint. We have also converted our intranet to a Wiki. We also do a monthly “Lunch & Learn” session where one department shares with attendees from other disciplines what they do and how they do it.

    There are other things, but these are the ones that come to mind.

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • ColeWake

    I admit that I was skeptical of your whole imprint plan. I thought it was counter to new economy brand theory. But the more I consider it the more I think it might work.

    You’re not moving to a macro-brand (at least not to consumers) you are actually creating 700 new super-specific micro-brands a year. The book is the brand. It all makes sense now. Maybe we in publishing have been placing artificial relevance on imprints at the cost of branding the title. Maybe this whole thing isn’t so crazy after all.

  • http://goodwordediting.com Mark Goodyear

    Mike, you wouldn’t happen to be the person giving the speech at an upcoming tradeshow would you? I’m certainly looking forward to hearing you in person at BEA.

    And thanks for sharing the specific technology you all are using to help communicate better inside your organization.

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Mark, indeed I am. I look forward to meeting you.

  • http://www.americanrecordablemedia.com/ DVD Duplicator

    Among the list, more market visibility is the most costly and hardest part in changing the publishing model. This will come to many questions like, what readers want to read? and how to make it more attractive so that readers will encourage to buy and patronize the product.