The Challenge of Managing Change at Large and Mid-Size Publishers

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Recently, I sat down with Mike Shatzkin, book publishing consultant and Digital Book World 2014 conference chair, to talk about a wide range of topics, including many that will be covered at DBW 2014. Over the next few months, I will be bringing you some of his insights, many of which will be expounded upon and made into practical, applicable takeaways at the conference itself. Learn more on how you can attend

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Publishing houses have had to adapt to sweeping changes in the book publishing industry since the rise of ebooks. For a small publisher with just a handful of employees, change is relatively easy. There’s a reason small organizations are admired for their ability to be nimble. It’s much harder for large organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees to get them all to change in the same way at the same time.

In the following condensed interview, Mike Shatzkin talks about how change happens in large organizations and why it’s important for publishers large and small to understand the principles behind it.

Jeremy Greenfield: It would seem to me that this many years into the book era, successful publishers have already changed. Or, is there more work to do?

Mike Shatzkin: I think that the challenge is in direct proportion to size. If you and I form a publishing company and things change, we have a meeting and we change. But if you’ve got a complex organization, particularly if you own hard assets, like a warehouse or a printing plant, then changing your strategy is a lot harder to do.

And if you’re a mega company, and I would say F+W [the owner and operator of Digital Book World] qualifies, you have a complex organizational structure and that structure determines a lot of what people can do each day.

So, unless you have some way to make that structure lean and flexible, it won’t be. The smaller the organization, the more urgent the change because they can’t survive three bad quarters. But I don’t think that any company that’s been in book publishing for the last ten years and is functioning today, whether they’re making money or not, has gotten through their last ten years without some serious changes.


JG: Can change be ingrained into an organization? Can it be standardized?

MS: What we’re trying to do is present a paradigm for change. I originally approached this topic thinking about it totally functionally. How do I make changes across silos in my business? For instance, if I’m an editor, I know in order to do the right thing, I need to team up with a marketer but my company is not organized for me to do that, so how do I do that on my own?

Carolyn Pittis [who is heading DBW 2014’s change management track] said, “no.” Change management has three components: people, process and technology. You have to think about all of the components to make changes. Among the things she said is that it can’t all come from the C-suite — it has to come from the rank and file.


JG: What if your company isn’t structured to be taking strategy cues from lower-level workers? 

MS: Her answer was that that company won’t survive long and you probably don’t want to work there anyway.

If you’re working at a company and you see the changes that should be made and you don’t have a way to suggest them, then you’re in a company that’s not going to work.

What we’re attempting to do is both give the C-suite and the managers a view of how a change-receptive organization has to function but also to suggest to people how they should look at their jobs and companies in order to be active change agents; that’s something everyone in every company has to think about being for an industry that’s in a transitional period that we’re in.

Related: DBW 2014 Speakers | Schedule

To learn more about Digital Book World 2014, visit the website here