The Problem With The Status Quo

Posted by

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: "technology is the great disruptor."

In the fight against technology and the status quo, when have we ever seen the status quo win (and no, The Matrix and The Terminator do not count!)? The New York Times published the article, Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal, and what do you think the macro concept points to? Yup, a world where traditional book publishers and literary agents live in both fear and partnership with the very real reality that Amazon will not only make a great book publisher, but it could also spell the end of the need for literary agents and beyond.

From the article…

"Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. It is a striking acceleration of the retailer’s fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers… ‘Everyone’s afraid of Amazon,’ said Richard Curtis, a longtime agent who is also an e-book publisher.’If you’re a bookstore, Amazon has been in competition with you for some time. If you’re a publisher, one day you wake up and Amazon is competing with you too. And if you’re an agent, Amazon may be stealing your lunch because it is offering authors the opportunity to publish directly and cut you out."

Why technology and data wins.

Follow this scenario: you’re Stephen King and you’re working with a traditional book agent and a traditional book publisher. Amazon knows how many books you sell. They know who they sold those books to, they know when those readers bought them. They have trending to know when the best time of the year would be to release your next book and they also know all of your writing peers (and everything about them too). It’s not hard for Amazon to extrapolate the true value of a book publishing deal for you. They can even sweeten the pot (or be more tepid) depending on what they want the outcome to be. Digging deeper into this, they can probably tell you – based on the analytics from the Kindle – which types of stories and settings work best for the reader. You probably didn’t even think about all of that Kindle data too, did you? They know not only who bought a book, but who read it, how far they got and what the reader felt was worth taking note of. Amazon can email all of the horror and mystery book readers an offer for Stephen King’s next novel. With the data from the pre-sale they can figure out how much of an advance/payday the author will receive (and how many books to publish). It’s an attractive offering.

Do you think a traditional publisher and literary agent know the business as well as Amazon?

What about first-time writers and those who don’t have an established track record like Stephen King? Amazon can do small and easy tests (things like free e-books or release an Amazon Kindle Single) to test the waters. They have a strong database to market to and it goes a lot deeper than this. Did Amazon outsmart the book publishing industry? Hardly. Much like the music, film, TV, news and other industries, traditional companies are not victims of technology. Traditional companies are victims of the status quo.

Are you holding on for dear life?

I think about our Marketing industry on a constant basis. I see people doing things with media that we never thought possible (more on that here: The Shift To TV Everywhere). Do I feel that the standard way that marketing sends messages to an audience in the form of an advertisement is the be all and end all? Hardly. Joseph Jaffe wrote an excellent book titled, Life After The 30-Second Spot, and while some changed the title to The Death of the 30-Second Spot, I think Joe was on to something… and that something is that there has to be something more. When someone buys a book on a Kindle on a Sunday morning and reads a few pages, then reads a little bit more via the iPhone Kindle app while on the subway to work and then finishes off their book experience on an iPad curled up in bed, there are interesting moments in between the weekend, the subway to work and the nighttime chill out that offer the Marketer a unique opportunity. Our natural instinct is to interrupt that experience with an ad. The true opportunity is in killing the status quo and thinking about how technology can help these moments become better marketing moments.

It doesn’t matter what industry you serve, the status quo (and trying to maintain it) doesn’t seem to be the right business model or marketing platform.


  1. Companies that embrace the status quo are also submitting to apathy. Apathy anesthetizes aptitude, accomplishment, and even ability. It is important for leaders to realize that apathy is mediocrity’s weapon of choice, and that to view the status quo as being acceptable is the precursor to a brand in decline.

  2. Your closing comment really has me thinking. It is so hard to think beyond the book as a publisher–to think about a book that extends beyond the covers. My first reaction is creating some dual environment where the experience of the book can be extended and accessed at any of the points you mentioned (home, subway, bed, etc.).
    I was surprised to see QR codes in Dave Ramsey’s new book, EntreLeadership that link to the website. The links just go to a video and additional content, but what if there was a prompt within the book to extend the conversation on the web, go share your story, discuss some controversial idea, connect with people who share your reactions, etc.?
    What if books not only inspired critical thinking, but gave you the opportunity to extend the conversation beyond the book (or within the book)?
    Thanks for this nugget of innovative inspiration, Mitch. I’m sorry I missed your TOC presentation in Frankfurt last week.

  3. Fabulous post, Mitch. In the Age of the Platform, disintermediation happens hard–and fast. Amazon’s planks in publishing and other areas will cause a great deal of change and I wonder if many lit agents aren’t hoping and praying for times to revert.
    Of course, they won’t.

  4. I’d like to read more, too. I’m not completely familiar with Amazon’s model, although I know they enable writers to publish directly. Surely the function of a good agent and a good publisher includes serving as an advisor and editor? Can Amazon offer that function, too? They may have all the analytics in the world, but that is rather after-the-fact stuff. Who helps the writer develop the best possible document? I’m wondering where this is taking us in terms of style, language, and content. Any ideas?

Comments are closed.