Defining Failure (Roundtable: 7/15/10)

#DBW RoundtableThe Roundtable is a live, interactive webcast gathering some of the most outspoken industry professionals to debate the hottest publishing issues of the week, as being discussed in traditional media, the blogiverse and on Twitter. From celebrity book deals to eBook rights and pricing to [insert YOUR pet topic here] — if it’s related to books, it’s on the agenda.

Topic: Defining Failure

This episode of The Roundtable was webcast live at 1pm EDT on Thursday, July 15, 2010.


Laura Dawson, Publishing Industry Consultant
Pablo Defendini, Interactive Producer, Open Road Integrated Media
Bridget Warren, Former Co-Owner, Vertigo Books

Special Guests:

Don Linn, former owner/CEO, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution
Mary Ann Naples, VP, Development, OpenSky

Moderated by:

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dir. of Programming & Business Development, Digital Book World


10 Signs that you’ve got an innovation dysfunction – Jim Carroll

  • People laugh at new ideas
  • Someone who identifies a problem is shunned
  • Innovation is the privileged practice of a special group
  • The phrase, “you can’t do that because we’ve always done it this way” is used for every new idea
  • No one can remember the last time anyone did anything really cool
  • People think innovation is about R&D
  • People have convinced themselves that competing on price is normal
  • The organization is focused more on process than success
  • There are lots of baby boomers about, and few people younger than 25
  • After any type of surprise — product, market, industry or organizational change — everyone sits back and asks, “wow, where did that come from?”

Publishers can no longer boondoggle – Stephen Bateman

  • Restructure the business so that it has a newly articulated mission – the business needs to look “out” not in
  • Put your best people on your biggest opportunities – move bums on seats to get new momentum and fresh initiatives in the business
  • Create a culture of “initiative” not “fear” – recompense the bold
  • Budget for failure – things are going to get a lot worse – don’t be meek – bring sales down then bring your costs down in line to preserve your margin and some headroom

Publishers Need to Fail Better, Cheaper, Faster – Rebecca Smart

If you perceive that your only environment is that encompassed by your current supply chain then you’re only going to adapt to changes in that environment – so the response to the digital challenge viewed in this way would be to create and sell e-books. If you put the consumer at the heart of your thinking you can consider instead each group of customers you serve and what they might want on top of what you already provide, how they might want you to serve them differently in the future. More to the point, you can ASK them, listen and respond.

The “Fail Week” Challenge – Ryan Chapman

A successful editor aims for three profitable books out of ten. Shouldn’t a successful online/new media department try for the same? Sadly, the departments I know of don’t attempt ten projects in a year. They’re aiming for the fences with every swing. At FSG, I’m dialing things down a bit. Instead of grand attempts to Save Publishing, how about just hitting a double? (You know things are bad when I’m using sports metaphors.)

Long story short: I’m aiming to fail harder.

Twitter (as RTd by @digibookworld):

RT @babetteross: we’re seeing innovative things for sake of innovation and not based on strategy #dbw @donlinn #DistractedByShineyObjects

 RT @MatthewDiener: “We are great at failing with books everyday.” @donlinn Grt pt; an industry surviving on 10% success rate w/ print. #dbw

RT @babetteross: Pubs don’t always look before they leap @ljndawson #dbw ie. taxes w/ agency pricing, not all have backend process to handle

RT @MatthewDiener: $500K advance for book that will be lucky to earn back vs. $500K for MarkLogic server and an end-to-end XML workflow #dbw

RT @deegospel: Why aren’t bookstores cultural centers anymore? Where are the cultural centers & do they accommodate readers? #dbw

RT @MissAdventuring: #DBW Innovation or desperation – bookstores working with google? | RT @eBookNoir: desperation i think

RT @bakersmark: One thing we don’t do in this industry is postmortems to discover why a book failed and what we could have done better. #dbw

RT @babetteross: Are silos at typical publisher, tech vs editorial vs marketing, creating an inability to analyze effective processes? #dbw

RT @MissAdventuring: #DBW #oldspice leveraged traditional with new media and self-reflective humor = success. Lessons for publishers?

RT @TomThompson: You wouldn’t have heard about Old Spice on twttr unless it gained the traction through the ad spend. That plus genius. #dbw

RT @babetteross: The important thing is to learn from your failures. Get back on the horse and keep going. @donlinn #dbw

2 thoughts on “Defining Failure (Roundtable: 7/15/10)

  1. Jim Carroll

    Interesting to see my “Innovation Killers” listed here, on the same day that I got back ePub/Kindle version of my Ready, Set, Done book from an Indian company, who did the conversion for me. I’ve self-published my last two books and have never looked back.

    I had a call from Wiley a couple of months ago, asking me to do a book with them. I asked them — why should I give up 85% of my rights, when I don’t think your business model works anymore?

    I turned them down. I’ll self-publish my next book (“Memo from the Future”) as well.

    The book industry is evolving at hyper-speed, and if you don’t challenge yourself with the ‘innovation killers’, you’re dead!


    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

      I’m glad I came across the post while preparing for today’s session as it fit the topic perfectly, and I saw you were able to attend, too. Hope you enjoyed it.

      I’d be interested in learning more about your decision to self-publish and your experiences to-date.



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