Can you afford to be fashionably late to the digital party?
In general it’s always a good thing to be the “first” at something. Being part of something on the ground floor tends to give you an advantage. This is why Bob and I are always trying new things and open to new innovative technology. But there is an inherent flaw in being “first”.
What was the first eReader? A Sony. They were first, but they aren’t really a big player anymore now are they? What was the first “smartphone?” Most people would probably say the Blackberry. Nope. It was a phone designed in 1992 by IBM called Simon. And well, we all know that IBM used to be synonymous with Personal Computer, except they have made a PC in years.
Anyone ever hear of Kodak? Did you know Kodak actually developed the technology for the digital camera? In 1995 they were pushing the Kodak DC40. They had pulled in Kinko’s and Microsoft to help develop digital making software and put kiosks inside Kinko’s stores. Even IBM collaborated with Kodak to make an internet-based network image exchange. These campaigns helped launch digital cameras to the consumers and now everyone uses them, but what has happened to Kodak?
It’s not that being first is the flaw. The flaw is the inability to adapt to continued change. Kodak made some ground breaking advances, but they never adapted to their own creation. The danger in being first and successful at something is the standard thinking that it can be re-created in identical format. Also, we have to remember that usually being first means it’s only the beginning. Too many people sit back and relax because they feel as though they’ve already achieved it. Whatever it is.
So, what does this brief little history lesson bring us to? Last week I visited the Corporate Offices of Kobo. During a tour of the offices with Mark we discussed various technologies, and how it has impacted the business of publishing, the writers, and the readers. I sort of joked that Kobo was a little late to the digital party and Mark responded with, “perhaps a little late, but with a solid plan.” One of the things that impressed me with Kobo is their ability to see what is going on around them and then act instead of react. They took their time launching the new Writing Life Portal. It’s been in the works for about a year, but they were busy watching, listening and learning. They are very aware of what is going on with other on-line stores and they welcome the competition. Mark constantly repeats how Kobo feels that the author should be able to get their book on as many platforms as possible.
They are also very aware of the problems they face and the changes they need to make with the portal. They have well defined phases and while we’d all like them to increase their category selection as well as create a “preview” for the ePub file conversion, its all part of the next phase. The problem with rolling out too many updates or changes inside a program that big is it can create other problems, making it harder for the end user because more bugs have been created. Always best to work out a few kinks, get it working right, then add to the system, then working out those kinks. Kobo is going to be around for a long time. They are the major player in Canada and have a good solid plan.
While I was there, I got to meet my personal rep for “the old way of doing things” before the Writing Life Portal. She’ll still play an integral part in the team effort to migrate all Cool Gus titles to one account, without losing sales rankings and any other data that is dealt with differently than inside the portal. Their approach to business is two-fold. They need to get quality content to their readers and they need to provide quality service to their content providers.
Kobo is expanding into other markets. Right now, the majority of Cool Gus Sales are in Canada (where Kobo is located) but they are reaching out and partnering with companies in places like Italy to bring their content to readers in those locations. We sell more in the Australian market through Kobo than we do on any other platform. Foreign markets are even more so in the infancy stages of eBooks (except Japan, or so Bob and I have been told).
Kobo is adapting to current changes, but also looking a few years ahead. They have a long-term plan, and they are doing things in phases. One thing I loved about my visit at Kobo was I got to see how they work. They have an open office. There are no offices and no cubicles. So when I email Mark that I have a problem, or that I crashed the portal again, he can roll his chair over to his tech team and say, “what can we do to fix this?” Even more cool is when I’m in Australia visiting my daughter I will hopefully be meeting with the Australian Kobo rep.
So Kobo might be late, but they are growing in leaps in bounds. But does this mean that those first to the party are doomed? No. Only those who don’t continue to adapt and change will be doomed. When we don’t learn from history, we will repeat it. Music business?
Amazon has been a leader in the digital party since the beginning. One could argue they are the ones who sent out the invitation to the rest of us. I’m a little tired of people calling Amazon the evil Empire. They might be an empire, but they are far from evil. The programs they have developed have given authors an opportunity to connect with readers, and that is what it is all about. If you don’t like exclusivity, then don’t do Select or submit to their imprints. The people at Amazon are forward thinkers and we really enjoy working them.
The same with the people at Pubit. I don’t think they will be dying off anytime soon. Perhaps the print business might, but those who have a Nook; well they love their Nook and Pubit is continuing to develop and adapt.
Smashwords, well, I’m not so sure about them. I think they were leaders and offered writers a very valuable distribution service, and they still do for those who can’t get into Apple or other outlets, but please, I beg of you, allow writers to upload their own ePub and Mobi files. As a professional formatter I cringe at what happens to Word documents, even those that have followed the guidelines in Smashwords Style document (which is actually very good, but Word is a horrible source document). I’m really not knocking Smashwords, I think it’s a great idea, but I do think in order for it to thrive, some adjustments need to be made.
At Cool Gus we revisit our Business Plan every couple of months. We rewrite it twice a year. Today Bob just uploaded the new plan, to which I need to add and make adjustments. Then we will hone it down into a plan of action for the next 6 months, but we’re not married to it either. If something doesn’t feel right, we’ll get on the phone (yes, occasionally we do talk on the phone) and hash it out. eBooks are organic and fluid, so we has business professionals have to be fluid as well.
The key to success in the digital party isn’t being first, or being late, or even last. The key is in the ability to adapt, change and think three years ahead.
Apple? Anyone out there? Hello?