Jul 10, 2012

Bring back the magic

This is a post which I have written for Open Rights Group (ORG), talking about Osprey’s philosophy on DRM and the publishing industry’s increasingly trenchant view on copyright protection. You will find it here too but I’m posting below to avoid extra clicks for those who come here first …

I am CEO of Osprey Group, a UK-based international publishing company focused on producing the best content for enthusiasts across a broad range of specialist areas including military history, heritage and nostalgia, transport history, crafts, antiques, science fiction and fantasy. Osprey Group publishes under four brands: Osprey Publishing, Shire, Old House and Angry Robot. A fifth brand, Strange Chemistry (YA genre fiction), will launch in September 2012 and a crime fiction brand, Exhibit A, will follow in Spring 2013. What defines us is not what we create but for whom we create. Osprey Group publishes books and content based on subject enthusiasms and passions, whether authoritative technical data on the military technology of World War II, a history of the Great Western Railway or an edgy genre novel set in near-future South Africa.

DRM-free on our websites
We have recently announced the launch of an Osprey DRM-free series of ebooks, but in fact all of Osprey’s military history books are sold DRM-free on our website already, in both PDF and ePub format. In our science fiction brand, Angry Robot, we sell ebooks DRM-free on our websites, and always have.

Why? The basics
We agree with two of the fundamental, well-worn arguments against DRM:

·         DRM does not work
DRM is pointless. It doesn’t stop those who are determined to avoid paying for content, and acts as a barrier for those who will happily pay, preventing them using their content on all devices. It protects large corporations from innocent consumers and actively encourages those who would steal to do so in order to spite those same large corporations.

·         Obscurity vs piracy
We are a small, independent publisher and we know that obscurity is a far greater enemy than piracy for us and our authors. Osprey’s military history books have been pirated as scans of print copies for many years and we have evidence that the transmission of pirate copies has led to purchases. This has not changed since the advent of ebooks. Having read the now infamous Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered, I noted the following comment: I might not have spent my money on a freaky krautrock album that had the potential to thrill or repel me when safer buying choices were available … if I were to cease all illegal downloading, this would necessarily restrict my listening habits.

Why? Niches and brands
But the bigger reason for our no-DRM philosophy is that our core business model is based upon repeat sales to loyal customers. When you publish for an enthusiast, niche market, the relationship between author, publisher and reader becomes symbiotic. The publisher creates and evolves the brand as a platform, providing an attractive home for the author, who in turn promotes the brand and his or her fellow authors as part of the ‘gang’. The reader knows what to expect from the brand and from the authors, and also wants to be part of the gang. Not surprisingly, in a relationship like this, copyright becomes self-policing – we have evidence of readers scolding those who point others to a source of pirated content. Additionally, the lack of DRM shows customers that we trust them, and this in itself increases their loyalty to the brand and reduces the likelihood of piracy.

The world does not owe the publishing industry a living
I worry that the publishing industry is protesting too much. All the resistance to any kind of copyright reform, and insistence on DRM, makes publishers appear like whining children. The world does not owe the publishing industry a living and we need to prove that we add value. But the world does need to support creation, and that means somebody has to fund it. The only sensible way to do this is for those who consume creations to value them and pay for them. The Osprey Group approach is to ensure that readers do just that, because what we do matters to them. I refer you again to the Letter to Emily White post (it really is good), where another comment states: I remember the first time I walked into a record store and bought a CD without my parents paying for it … I played the shit out of that CD. There was something magical about music ownership … I want the magic back. We, as publishers, have an opportunity, even a duty, to bring back the magic.

May 18, 2012

Get out more

If I had a pound for every conversation I have had in the last few weeks in which the words, ‘get out of the office and go and meet some people’, featured … well, you know the rest.  

I know that my own creative energy wanes if I stay in the office for more than a few days at a time, and I have at various times had members of my team tell me that having time out of the office meeting a range of people has transformed their thinking on particular topics, changed their perspective on what they previously thought was an insurmountable list of tasks and inspired them to higher levels of energy.

New perspective = new solutions
Getting out takes you away from the minutiae and reminds you of the real objective of your work. This can lead to a different perspective on some knotty aspect of a project as you realise that what you thought was important really wasn’t. There’s a great 1965 book called A Technique for Producing Ideas which describes how time away from the active thinking phase is important in the creative process and this is the same principle. Once you see an issue from a different perspective you are able to see different ways of tackling it.

New connections = mutual support
Sharing … and I mean REALLY sharing … what you feel about challenges on a one-to-one basis with a range of people can be very helpful. You may get some new ways of looking at your issues, hear something which makes you feel better and help someone else tackle his or her own challenges. And what’s more you’ll be building yourself a support network for the future.

Communication = information = opportunity
Communication is about information sharing. By definition this means that the more of it you do the more you will discover opportunities. In an excellent piece called Organisation is a Process, Dr Esko Kilpi writes, ‘
Information is the energy of organizing. When information is transparent to everybody, people can organize effectively around changes and differences, around customers, new technologies and competitors. What we have still not understood is that people need to have access to information that no one could predict they would want to know. Even they themselves did not know they needed it – before they needed it. … When information is transparent, different people see different things and new interdependencies are created, thus changing the organization. The context matters more than ever. The easier the access that people have to one another and to (different) information is, the more possibilities there are.’

Inspiration = action
Whether it be people watching, product watching in a retail environment, or just looking at a different landscape, ‘newness’ inspires. Conversations inspire. Information inspires. Inspiration is mental stimulation to action.

What else do you get from time away from your regular place of work?

Apr 3, 2012

Are the kids all right?

Last week’s Bookseller article The Kids are Alright reported that publishing students now want to go into marketing, where previously the career of choice was to become an editor.

However, the article goes on to say, ‘Marketeers across the industry are feeling frustrated, under-resourced and slightly out of control. The problem is that over the past five years the job of marketing a book has changed beyond all recognition.’

The solutions proposed (not least this one: ‘At the very least, marketing, design and publicity should be brought under the control of a central communications team.’) got me thinking about the division of labour and the spectrum of skills specialisation in publishing.

At the one extreme we now have self-published authors who are one-person publishers: they know intimately who will be their likely customers and are hugely incentivised to market the hell out of their books. At the other extreme are the large publishing houses with every function operating in a separate team and books passing along a kind of production line.

How do we balance the need for specific skills such as copywriting and design, with the need for deep, committed understanding of the potential readers of an author, book or series, which is likely to come best from the editor? Can (or should) some of the roles be combined? What will be the nature of future publishing roles and structures?

Here at Osprey Group we approach this differently for each of our communities of readers, with Angry Robot having the most integrated approach – the team is very small and EVERYONE is a marketeer regardless of job title. In Osprey Publishing and Shire we have recently restructured to bring marketing and sales together with editors so that small teams are aimed squarely at their readers, working together rather than as separate functional teams, but within the teams tasks are still relatively specialised.  

I’m keen to hear your thoughts – who does what in the optimum publishing team?

Mar 26, 2012

Change and fatigue

There’s a certain amount of fatigue at Osprey at the moment. We’ve had a brilliant start to the year, with an Amazon and Nielsen bestseller, Bradshaw’s Handbook, and everything is going well, but people are feeling the effects of a lot of change which has taken place over the last few months.

With this in mind, I was reflecting this weekend on an article I read about a lesson from parenting for dealing with change in companies. I read it a few weeks ago but it really stuck with me, and I revisited it today. The article argues that what is often seen as resistance to change is simply emotional fatigue – that people rationally understand what is needed but emotionally find sustaining a new routine difficult: ‘by the time you are in the middle of the effort, the initial enthusiasm is no longer there’. This made me think about the situational leadership model, which argues that there is an appropriate level of direction and support for every individual and every task. The relevant point here is that when someone embarks on something new, instructions will be necessary but emotional support may not be as the individual will be carried forward on a wave of enthusiasm. After the initial stage of learning, however, fatigue and disillusionment kick in and emotional support from a leader is crucial. What needs to be in place in order to provide this support when it’s required?

This article argues that what is necessary is simply for leaders to connect with people as people. This seems SO simple that it shouldn’t need to be said, but my conversations with people in the industry tell me that it does need saying, and often. ‘Like great parents, great organizational change practitioners don’t treat people as change objects, but as change subjects. It makes all the difference between a smart tactic to ‘tackle resistance’ and an authentic act of listening and support. The first is a tactic, the latter is a connection. Ask yourself: what matters most?’

I’m sure nobody sets out NOT to connect in this way (or am I wrong?) but often the perception is different from the intention - why is that? I’ll try to answer in another post but in the meantime I’m interested in your thoughts.

A couple of other pieces on change and fatigue which I found useful …

Change Subjects or Change Objects? Positive, creative, and co-operative workplaces treat people as subjects. How do workplaces treat people as subjects? First, they value what they want and take account of their views and opinions. Second, they value their strengths and capacities and the contributions they make to the workplace. Third, they recognise that people are not only human beings, but also human becomings. In other words, they recognise that people grow and develop, and they make space for that growth.

Is Your Organisation too Tired to Change? Allocate time and support for the transition as well as the change event. Change has two dimensions — the event and the transition (white space). The event is finite and occurs much quicker than the transition. The transition is the process people need to move through to enable the success of the event. Leaders begin the transition before the people most affected. Too often support for the transition ends when the leader nears the end of her/his transition. Unfortunately, this is often when the people most affected are either just beginning or in the middle of their transition.

Mar 19, 2012

Creativity (and Culture) with a small c

From an HBR post today …

‘Arguably, little c creativity is a bigger deal in business than the big C [Creativity as in genius – entrepreneurial flair which is born not made]. When you dig into the back-story of Apple, you soon start to recognize that it wasn’t all about Steve. Steve, actually, was wrong a lot of the time. If it had been entirely up to him, Apple would never have opened the App Store. What made Apple great was the combination of Jobs’s genius with the little-c mindsets of the people he worked with and who weren’t afraid to express their own ideas.’

The logical conclusion of the article is that innovation comes as much from culture as from naturally creative individuals, on two scores:

  1. The 70% of creativity which is controllable is about attitude. Develop a culture in which creativity is encouraged as a mindset, and in which it is assumed that everyone is capable of coming up with ideas.
  2. It’s important that ideas can be expressed, that there is no fear of them being dismissed. Consistently promote a culture in which ideas are heard, developed and implemented.
Mar 12, 2012

Futurebook 2010

Mar 12, 2012

Finally. I am blogging.

This is where publishing and change management converge.

The video above gives a flavour of where I’m coming from (though it’s a bit old now it remains relevant).

I’m in an industry under siege and there is a huge amount of talk about technology, supply chain, marketing, pricing, discovery, metadata … but nobody is talking about why people resist change, how it impacts them, how to DO change.

Here are two articles I’ve written:


I’ll be sharing my journey and that of my business, plus others’ wisdom.