Saturday, December 26, 2009

Understanding the Power

of what you can control, and what you can't.

Seth Godin wrote this last week:

You don't have the power

A friend is building a skating rink. Unfortunately, he started with uneven ground and the water keeps ending up on one side of the rink. Water's like that, and you need a lot of time and power and money if you want to change it. One person, working as hard as he can, has little chance of persuading water to change.

Consider this quote from a high-ranking book publisher who should know better, "We must do everything in our power to uphold the value of our content against the downward pressures exerted by the marketplace and the perception that 'digital' means 'cheap.' ..."


You don't have the power. Maybe if every person who has ever published a book or is ever considering publishing a book got together and made a pact, then they'd have enough power to fight the market. But solo? Exhort all you want, it's not going to do anything but make you hoarse.

Movie execs thought they had the power to fight TV. Record execs thought they had the power to fight iTunes. Magazine execs thought they had the power to fight the web. Newspaper execs thought they had the power to fight Craigslist.

Here's a way to think about it, inspired by Merlin Mann: Imagine that next year your company is going to make 10 million dollars instead of a hundred million dollars in profit. What would you do knowing that your profits were going to be far less than they are today? Because that's exactly what the upstart with nothing to lose is going to do. Ten million in profit is a lot to someone starting with zero and trying to gain share. They don't care that you made a hundred million last year from the old model.

If I'm an upstart publisher or a little-known author, you can bet I'm happy to sell my work at $5 and earn seventy cents a copy if I can sell a million.

Smart businesspeople focus on the things they have the power to change, not whining about the things they don't.

Existing publishers have the power to change the form of what they do, increase the value, increase the speed, segment the audience, create communities, lead tribes, generate breakthroughs that make us gasp. They don't have the power to demand that we pay more for the same stuff that others will sell for much less.

And if you think this is a post about the publishing business, I hope you'll re-read it and think about how digital will change your industry too.

Competition and the market are like water. They go where they want.

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