Sometimes, big changes start with small ideas- turned into reality one by one.
Sometimes, instead of re-inventing a new business wheel, it might make more sense to expand on the uses of an existing one: by letting others play with it, you might discover uses that even its creators didn’t dream of.
And, sometimes, you need somebody who is not a local business actor (or contender) to act as a catalyst for change.
Dear Mr. Bezos,
over the last few years, I experimented with the publishing services provided by Amazon, i.e. Createspace and Kindle.
Before that, I was occasionally involved since the late 1980s with the production of publications within business organizations, e.g. as part of projects, software sales, training initiatives- from the obvious training manuals and an optical disc in the late 1980s, to a marketing book on new media in the late 2000s.
I will get straight to the point: I had been thinking about this letter for a while, but the choice to make it an “open letter” (a.k.a. post) is due to an invitation to a conference by Createspace.
The event will be hosted within the “XXVIII Fiera del Libro”, a book fair that will run from May 14th until 18th, in Turin (Italy), http://www.salonelibro.it
My experiments included few business books via Createspace and KDP (on http://astore.amazon.com/robertolofaro-20), but mainly for knowledge-sharing and in preparation of future activities.
As a confirmed bookworm, I appreciated the replication of business processes that I was used to- from both the “supply” and the “demand” side of the book business.
I think that publishers’ and readers’ experience could be improved by extending your existing services, affecting three dimensions of publishing:
- the source: in corporate training design and delivery, I saw often the costs and logistics involved in “re-inventing the wheel” by small and medium companies (i.e.try to turn once in a while into a publisher)- for most non-confidential training material, using CS+KDP as in-house publishing platforms would both save costs, increase performance and, if and when shared online, act as a marketing/recruitment/loyalty tool
- the content: obviously, I am focused on non-fiction- whatever is written within each book could actually be turned into a “connection factory” to identify potential associations and create “connecting the dots” between the authors (individuals or organizations), creating a platform for “smart specialization”, allowing cooperation across industries- as I happen to have done for a couple of decades in my activities, but using just experience and personal bookworm curiosity or serendipity, while a software platform could do that continuously
- the relationship: I still remember bookshops whose owners and staff knew that, in motivating ‘serial readers’ to buy further books from them prices and suggesting similar titles (or additional titles) to a buyer was one side of the coin, but the other was asking and conveying feedback- and maybe finding a way to put readers in touch with authors; the current Amazon system partially covers for that- but thinking outside the traditional bookshop format box, it could be useful to enable authors/publishers to “outreach” individual buyers; it would be nice to provide buyers with an individual purchase tracking code, e.g. to be used as a confirmation/discount code to enable individual buyers to access additional content, either within the Amazon ecosystem (discount codes are already supported on CS and KDP, as well as the opportunity to give the Kindle version for free to those purchasing the paper version, and to loan e-books: maybe it could be built on top of that), or on publishers’ online presence venues (e.g. to get access to a secret or restricted group on Facebook, become a member of a website, or get promotional material).
Around Europe, I routinely met small or medium companies that had developed a wealth of knowledge, were willing/trying to share it or scout for knowledge from other industries that they could reuse in their own, but had neither the structure nor the resources to develop a meaningful knowledge-sharing ecosystem stretching beyond the obvious (their own supply chain and customers), or an internal “knowledge scouting/matching” function.
It is an evolution of the “smart specialization'” that many advocate, but often ends up as a fight against a wall of mutually exclusive interests between private companies and governments (I know- I joined plenty of those communities, but few deliver more than a mere “social networking”)- so, there is room for a third party.
My current publishing activities aren’t focused on generating revenue, but obviously that doesn’t necessarily apply to others.
And, most certainly, solutions delivering those three services could be based on Amazon’s AWS or “AI on demand” services (and, if enhanced by an anonymous “connecting-the-dots” functionality with the usual layers of “opt-in”, customized compartmentalization, and all the other privacy and confidentiality paraphernalia, it could incentivate some companies to outsource part of their infrastructure there).
Looking forward to use those services in a future book,
I actually started pestering Createspace with variants of those ideas as soon as I published my first book with them (early 2013), ideas that anyway I had proposed and applied, at a smaller scale and not necessarily through technology, since the 1980s.
Obviously, if I were based in the USA those would be three domains worth developing start-ups on- but I am not, and there is a time and place for everything.
Yes, there are plenty of “portals” (even in Italy it now trendy to create portals for specific regions, districts, clusters), usually stretching as far as a social network with primitive “semantic web” elements: but the aim is something different, is to use the ability to “understand” content to create connections where a mere list of categories would not be enough to generate cross-industry opportunity for cooperation.
I rather have those services delivered by those who control access to the key information (the one provided by purchase transactions), or have already in place the resources needed to provide those additional services, than wait to be in the right place at the right time- “waiting for Godot” isn’t really a blueprint for business decision making (read a summary here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_Godot).
Just by chance, “smart specialization” was a theme in a seminar that I attended yesterday in Turin (“A New Industrial Policy for the European Union” http://csfederalismo.it/index.php/en/component/content/article/17-convegni/2770-a-new-industrial-policy-for-the-european-union), built around a report from an independent think tank, the European Policy Centre (“Sharing the same vision – The cornerstone of a new industrial policy for Europe” http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=1&pub_id=4279).
The report contains an analysis and some interesting proposals, albeit I think that a European Union that still thinks in up to 28 different directions, at a time when it would make sense to join forces, is still far, far away from being able to benefit from the potential represented by the highest concentration of social and physical infrastructure for a knowledge economy in human history.
Obviously (for those that followed my online scribblings about the EU on robertolofaro.com/blog), I think that the political side of the solution to fulfill the potential of the “European Human Capital” implies more vertical integration (i.e. EU) coupled with more “asymmetric horizontal integration” (i.e. a “coalition of the willing” on specific initiatives, programmes, or even industrial/infrastructure development).
With more gravitas, a similar concept on the need for further integration was expressed by an open letter sent from two former Italian Presidents to the President of the European Commission, Mr. Juncker, published today (http://www.lastampa.it/2015/05/09/italia/politica/ue-ciampi-e-napolitano-lunica-strada-una-pi-solida-integrazione-ye82PMgw5jHsQch6ZNtVIP/pagina.html)
As it often happens, neither ideas nor infrastructure or resources to invest are missing in Europe: what is missing, is somebody taking over the role of “catalyst” (as the approach described yesterday adopted by Germany for the Energiewende http://energytransition.de/- see also Branfman’s 2008 book “The Starfish and the Spider” https://www.librarything.com/work/1496794/book/82389992)- a “connecting the dots” exercise that requires thinking longer-term and to the bigger picture, instead of focusing just on electoral win-lose equations whose lifespan extends at most to the next electoral cycle.
As I wrote at the beginning, sometimes big changes start with small ideas- turned into reality one by one.
It is quite common to “think big”- e.g. a single, overreaching community to enable smart specialization worldwide.
And that could be eventually possible- but I am used to be more pragmatic.
The conceptual (and software) infrastructure to support the three points listed above could obviously have a worldwide reach from day 1.
Unfortunately, the motivational side instead would require creating success cases through “asymmetric horizontal integration”, each success case (or failure whose lessons we understand) acting as a catalyst for further expansion (I worked in the same way since the late 1980s on other domains and markets), instead of trying (a European specialty) a “big bang approach”.
Back to the business case above: everybody knows what Amazon stands for now, but how many saw what was to become when it started?