This week we’re looking at things the publishing industry can learn from the decline of Eastman Kodak Co. Yesterday we started with the importance of knowing our business. Today – three more lessons from Kodak. What insight can we gain about knowing our customer?
Traditionally, advertising and marketing have been focused on “creating a need” in the consumer, and then filling the need. You convince people they want something, then you sell it to them.
While that dynamic is still in play, there’s been a power shift in favor of the consumer. People know they’re not beholden to giant conglomerates to get what they want. They realize they have control—they can make their own movies on YouTube, distribute music through iTunes, they can create apps, they can publish books. Consumers don’t have to wait around for a big company to spoon-feed them.
They also wield their freedom of choice unflinchingly. There’s little brand loyalty. If a company isn’t giving them what they want, they’ll go somewhere else.
For us, this means we must pay attention to the hard data on what our customers are buying, what they want, what they don’t want, and where their attention is. We should be watching how things are trending to try and project what our customers will want in a year, or five years or ten years. The customer will get what they want, whether we provide it, or someone else does.
Will we provide what they want, how they want it, available for purchase where they want to buy, for a price they’ll pay? Or will we step aside and let someone else do that?
In the past, people were slow to adapt to new technologies. But we live in a time where new technology is a given—there is no longer a general expectation that things will stay the same for very long. People are open to “the next new thing”—but they’re discerning about what they adopt. The new thing must be perceived as either superior to the old, or equal to the old but for a lower price, or preferably both.
Kodak didn’t pay enough attention to the new ways people were interacting with their photos, assuming that people would always want physical photos. (And who could blame them?) They couldn’t foresee the degree to which photo-sharing via cellphones and the Internet would become a major way people connect with each other, and they didn’t give their customers credit for adapting to a whole new dynamic where photos were concerned.
Sure, many people still print out a few photos and put them in an album; we all have family portraits on our walls, and there’s a subculture of old-style scrapbooking. But all of that is a tiny fraction of the major ways photos are now used—as a social tool. (Pinterest, anyone?)
It may seem like the general public’s adoption of digital book technology is going slowly, but it’s not. Surely you’ve noticed how many people say, “I swore I’d never use an e-reader, but once I got one, I can’t live without it. I’d never go back to paper books.”
So let’s not over-estimate how long printed books are going to continue to be the major portion of our business. Right now they seem to still be around 75-80% of sales. But in five years, I think it will be exactly the opposite: 20% paper, 80% digital. And the way people interact with books—the way they define books—is bound to change. Will they become more social and interactive like photos have?
This is the logical extension of the previous two points. Apparently Kodak operated on a model that assumed marketing was about selling products to consumers, rather than providing consumers with what they want and need. They relied on consumers continuing to want to print their photos. They didn’t adapt to the new marketplace and consumers’ new attitudes. They were product-oriented, not people-oriented.
If we want to continue into the future successfully, we (publishers, agents, authors) will focus more on our readers and how to stay relevant to their needs. (We can’t continue to think of the retailer as our only customer.) We must NOT expend energy trying to stop the tide of change, but instead figure out how to surf the waves of change, staying right ahead of that curl. (I’m not sure how a surfing metaphor got into this post!) It’s not about physical books and physical bookstores; it’s about connecting authors with readers in the way that our readers want.
Consider that Pinterest’s mission statement says: “Our goal is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting.” I wonder if we should be thinking towards connecting everyone in the world through the written word.
Some questions for you:
• What does your customer want these days that’s different from what they wanted five years ago?
• Are you surprised at how quickly people adapt to new technologies? What do you think this new adaptiveness means for writers, agents, and publishers?
Tomorrow: Are We Ready For Change?
Yesterday’s post: Do You Know What Business You’re In?
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