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.