ENTRIES TAGGED "Rosenfeld Media"

Three questions for…Lou Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld Media is bringing the concept of "publisher as platform" to life

1. You recently wrote an article talking about how Rosenfeld Media is “now more than a publishing company.” You talk about adding consulting and training services to your portfolio. How would you respond to skeptics who might say that’s fine for your business, but a typical trade publisher doesn’t have the content or expertise that lends itself to this diversification?

Publishers without content or expertise? I hope they manage to enjoy the view of the approaching iceberg while fumbling for their life jackets.

Every publisher has content, and content is essentially a captured, polished form of authors’ expertise. So we already have access to content and its source expertise. And we already have audiences. I’m simply suggesting that we connect those dots in a more effective way. How? By asking ourselves a simple question: which formats are the best for matching our expertise with our audiences? Maybe books, but maybe also classes, consulting, or all of the above.

These are pretty straightforward ideas, really, and nothing new: publisher as platform, format agnosticism, and growing the content ecosystem. Yet publishers still see themselves as being in the book business, despite the crush of new formats, and despite the fact that books can upsell to all sorts of other expertise-based products and services. I think that’s a dangerous course.

And all this ecosystem nonsense ultimately leads to better content. Your author’s expertise is tested and improved when they consult, when they present, and when they teach, just as it is when they write. Whatever the end product, it will be better if it’s been forged through a variety of content formats. Why wouldn’t publishers want to support this–especially when it opens up new revenue streams?

2. These services you’re adding are outside the scope of a typical publisher’s staff. Have you been able to re-train and extend your staff’s capabilities or did the consulting and training operations require new staff with new skills?

Staff? Training? We have two full-time staff (including myself), plus a bunch of free-lancers. If our model is successful, sure, we’ll have to grow–perhaps to the astounding size of 15 full-timers. And I’m confident we can continue to find partners or freelancers to help with the specifics of each format–be it consulting, online learning, and other formats–as we need them.

We need to stay small because infrastructure kills. As in any mature industry, many publishers have become too large and too invested in legacy thinking, practices, and formats–like the book–to adapt. So our goal is to maintain just enough infrastructure so we can stay nimble–straddling between the extremes of traditional publishing and self-publishing.

Also, our vertical is relatively small; while that chokes our ability to grow, it does help us keep close tabs on what’s important: our audience, and the kinds of content they need. So perhaps we’ll never be an especially lucrative business, but we’ll do good work and will do so sustainably.

3. If you’re successful, five years from now, what percentage of Rosenfeld Media’s overall sales would you anticipate will come from books (both print and e)?

Because we’ve already diversified to offering public workshops, our breakdown last year was approximately 65% books and 35% workshops. In five years, I’d expect it to be 35% in-house training, 25% consulting, 25% books, and 15% public workshops.

But that’s not really the only way to look at it. The books, for example, might generate 25% of our revenue, but given that they reach tens of thousands of customers, they offer a fantastic means for widely promoting our other, higher-end services, not to mention our overall brand. So if you look at the books through the lens of an ecosystem, they can offer value that goes far beyond their sales.

One last thought: we’ve been talking here about publishers and publishing. Those terms are now meaningless remnants from another century. Why do we continue to use them? I’ll bet dollars to donuts that any company involved with creating books would do well to ban the words “publish,” “publisher,” and “publishing” from their internal meetings. I can guarantee their discussions–and their ultimate business strategies–will be far better for it.

Lou Rosenfeld is founder and publisher of Rosenfeld Media.

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Taking a page out of ESPN’s playbook

Book publishers would be wise to study how ESPN is reinventing broadcast television

If you missed this recent BusinessWeek article about ESPN you owe it to yourself to go back and read it. ESPN is so much more than just a sports network and their brilliant strategy offers plenty of lessons for publishers. Here’s just one important indicator of their success: While the average network earns about 20 cents per subscriber each month ESPN is paid $5.13. That’s more than 25 times the average!

Pay for One, Access All

Of course ESPN isn’t just one channel. It’s a family of channels (e.g., ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Classic, etc.) If you’re a subscriber to any one of those channels you’re able to watch all of them online via the free WatchESPN app. That means no matter where I am I can catch anything on the ESPN network on my tablet, even those channels I don’t get via cable.

Think about that for a moment. That would be like buying one ebook but getting access to the entire series it’s part of. That’s unheard of in book publishing. It’s also pretty unusual in network broadcasting but ESPN is ahead of its time. When I stream those channels on WatchESPN they’re commercial-free; a static logo appears during commercial breaks. That’s because ESPN hasn’t sold the advertising rights to the streaming broadcasts…yet. They’re willing to stream everything now, even without advertising income, to build a nice solid base to lure those advertisers to the table. Smart.

Building Talent Franchises

The article talks about Bill Simmons and how the network has turned him into a superstar. So when Simmons had the idea to create Grantland he brought the concept to ESPN to see what they thought. Rather than watching Simmons go off on his own and create something that might compete with them they launched Grantland with him using their ESPN Internet Ventures arm.

When this scenario plays out in the publishing world it usually ends with the author taking the idea somewhere else, often to a self-publisher. It’s clear ESPN is willing to take more risks than the typical book publisher, even if it might lead to cannibalization. As the saying goes though, it’s better to eat your own young than to let someone else do it.

Memorable Quotes

This article is loaded with plenty of interesting observations but my favorite quotes are the following:

I have friends who work at Google, and they are beating their chests. ESPN, they never feel like they are at the mountaintop. They’re always thinking they can do something bigger.

He stresses ESPN’s multi-platform advantage: print, radio, broadcast television, cable television, Internet, mobile applications. To date there are no competitors who have assets in all those media.

I don’t think you’ll find a lot of hubris here. Or complacency. I don’t think there’s any sense of trying to protect what we’ve got. We’re going to try new things.

Meanwhile, most book publishers today seem content with high growth rates (off small bases) for what’s nothing more than quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions. There’s certainly not much happening in the multi-format, multi-channel world ESPN is pioneering.

Think this advice only applies to the world of television? If so, look at how Rosenfeld Media is reinventing and repositioning itself for the future.

What’s your opinion? Do we need to think more like ESPN? And can you name any publishers who are breaking away from the pack and creating some really innovative, multi-channel products?

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