Anyone who’s worked in media in the 21st century—particularly “traditional” magazine media and its various digital counterparts and competitors—has at some point lived through the ups and downs of expense cuts and surprise layoffs, questionable pivots and their inordinate investments. I’ve been through variations of it a few times in my career, but my second time around with F+W was absolutely the worst, particularly because I realized, belatedly, that the writing was on the wall pretty early on. Here’s four things I learned which might be strong signs your company is heading in the wrong direction.
Another notable factor that publishers seem to have trouble acknowledging is that books—especially ebooks—don't exist in a vacuum, competing only with other books published that month, but they fight for attention and discretionary income with every other immersive media format, too. Movies, TV, and gaming have all seen their own versions of digital disruption—not to mention other areas of publishing itself—so the idea that the one compelling villain to blame a decline in consumer ebook sales on is public libraries would be laughable if it wasn't so short-sighted and suicidal.
There are three types of people who survive in media: hard workers, sycophants, and the serial failures they both work for who somehow manage to continually find employment despite a reasonably public record of the wreckage they've left behind. Too harsh? Maybe, a bit—some sycophants are arguably hard workers too, and serial failure might not be as easy as the eternally mediocre make it look—but after my own 25+ years surviving in media (and currently in the final throes of a demoralizing corporate bankruptcy), I'm feeling a little cynical.
Thinking about my early days with comics, I realized they were the gateway to my interest in publishing, my first real awareness of people and a process behind the scenes that connected me to the stories and characters I enjoyed so much. I read "regular" books just as voraciously as comics, but Marvel and DC were meaningful brands while book publishers weren't. I had no idea (and didn't particularly care) who published Encyclopedia Brown or Stephen King until my first job in a bookstore (at 19 years old), and even then they were just vague corporate logos with no personal relevance.
While there are different ways to lead and different styles of leadership, without the ability to develop realistic budgets, communicate consistently and transparently with staff, and define a compelling mission and vision for all to rally around, they're just meaningless personality traits. If it's raining outside, don't sing me "the sun’ll come out tomorrow," give me a damn umbrella.
For an allegedly liberal industry, publishers do a much better job of packaging and peddling the worst aspects of conservative punditry (along with celebrity memoirs and coloring books), while truth, history, and “diverse” perspectives and experiences are often dismissed as having limited commercial potential regardless of their cultural value. Many are sitting on a treasure trove of great content and access to a roster of truly creative people with timely and compelling insights and ideas that could literally change the world, but we’ll most likely just see a few anthologies cranked out to modest acclaim, with minimal marketing and zero cultural or financial impact.
In these final days of 2015, here we are, with a traditional publishing industry that's evolved to include new players and business models, alongside an independent publishing industry that's steadily growing and continually evolving, too. What we haven't seen are the radical disruptions that so many predicted were right on the horizon...
Having our own kids growing up around a relatively diverse group of kids was an important factor for us when we left the Bronx nearly four years ago, and while we technically found what we were looking for, what we didn't account for was the overwhelmingly white staff that would be teaching them.
Transition, transformation, disruption, disintermediation... whichever word you prefer, the publishing industry is undergoing a massive shift that's being driven by the Internet, with the news and magazine sides arguably a bit further ahead of the curve than the book side, for better or worse, though few major players among them are seeing any light at … Continue reading 5 Career Tips to Survive Publishing’s Digital Shift
I casually followed the transition for a couple of months before losing interest, and was disappointed to check in last week to find an uninspired website and social media presence, and PDF-only digital editions. I also realized I hadn't noticed the magazine on the newsstands in months.