Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Today's publishers should look at 1950's publishing thought leaders

Reading Mike Shatzkin's blog (http://www.idealog.com/blog/) about his father(Leonard Shatzkin)'s innovations in 1950's book publishing at Doubleday motivated me to write today's posting. I vividly remember reading "In Cold Type" by Leonard Shatzkin ( http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Type-Overcoming-Book-Crisis/dp/0878380264/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1244564554&sr=1-2 ) in the mid-nineties while I was Director of Inventory and Reprints for Harcourt Trade. Shatzkin's descriptions of both the way print quantity decisions were made, and how statistical techniques like regression analysis could be applied to fill in missing information and improve the results of the decisions presented a promising alternative to the smart but underinformed, visceral, and emotional approaches that I saw daily. As we progressed on the path to being a profitable business at Harcourt Trade, I was able to apply the spirit of Shatzkin's experiences to help inspire analytical, decision-making, process, and strategy reforms that led to reducing our inventories by over 50%, while sales grew 100%, and fillrates increased to exceed the goals we set.
It is true that quantitative analysis by itself has limited utility, but coupled with an improved decision architecture so that the insights and/or predictive information culled from the analysis can be best incorporated into the final decision-making, it is part of a potentially impactful improvement engine. This requires that the organization be willing to tackle the people/structural issues that impact the problem at hand, from who sits at the decision-making table and what roles they play when, to who implements and communicates the decision, to how results are tracked and communicated to those who need to know.
As book publishing struggles in the early 21st century, while new digital platforms dominate a lot of the industry's thought leadership, I'd make the case that publishers can more directly impact their current cost structures and balance sheets by looking back at the 1950's and Leonard Shatzkin's example of thought leadership at Doubleday.

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