Sure, putting the word “startup” in the title of a book seems to be all the rage, but can (and should) the publishing of each title be treated like a startup? In Every Book Is A Startup (O’Reilly, Feb 2012), Todd Sattersten aims to build on the creative energy of the startup and applies it to book publishing. By prescribing entrepreneurial ways of looking at acquisition and marketing in the book industry, Sattersten pushes for publishers to be able to better define the success of a book more thoroughly, to assess the need and audience for it more concisely, and to react to audiences’ expectations more immediately.
In the book, Sattersten references Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, and Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail to frame the publishing landscape as being one of Black Swans and Long Tails, i.e. occasional, huge hits, and many niche works for smaller audiences, respectively. He outlines the disparity between these two types of titles to explain the unique publishing marketplace and to demonstrate how hard it is to set a standard of success (like one magic number of units sold) across all titles. Very seldom will a book ever become a Fifty Shades of Grey or The Hunger Games, and while “Readers now have the tools to find books in the long tail…becoming aware of those books is another matter.”
One of the most interesting chapters of Every Book Is A Startup is the one in which Sattersten talks about the “Fidelity-Convenience continuum.” On one end of the spectrum is Fidelity, products that focus meticulously on adding features to enhance the user experience like HD televisions; muscle cars with more horse power; and tablets with the best interfaces, screens, and hardware. On the opposite end is Convenience, products that remove as many elements as possible to reach the broadest audience, such as Ikea’s bare-bones (assembly required) business model; online college courses; and Kindle 2’s “Book in 60 Seconds” ad campaign (this is in comparison to its original approach of trying recreate the printed book experience). While Sattersten admits that there is a market for people at all points within the continuum, the importance in treating a book like a startup is knowing where one’s audience falls and then using that to a publisher’s marketing advantage. Read More