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Why Publishers Need to Think More Like Silicon Valley

What we’re seeing today in the publishing eco-system is a merger of two cultures.

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

Silicon Valley is sunny, successful, and awash with cash. Not to mention that it is California — some 3,000 miles away from the publishing capital of New York City. The attitude toward books is very different on the West Coast, where content has always been viewed as a commodity (think of Hollywood) rather than culture.

When you’re a start-up with nothing to lose, it’s easy to promote “experimentation” and “entrepreneurship.” Or a lot easier than it is for people whose survival feels threatened on a day-to-day basis like it so often does in New York City.

But there are lessons to be learned from the Silicon Valley culture that can be applied to publishing, many of which Guy Kawasaki outlines in today’s feature article.

The questions is, though, do publishers need to think more like Silicon Valley? Or are the cultures mutually exclusive? Does the curation of big “C” culture — rather than the production, sale and distribution of a commodity — entail a different set of values?

One would like to think so, but the fact is that so much of publishing entails the production of a commodity. Entertainment is a commodity, cookbooks are a commodity, 99% of what passes for literary fiction is, ultimately, a commodity. Poetry, well, not so much…

What we’re seeing today in the publishing eco-system is a merger of the two cultures: the “fail faster” culture of self-publishing, with its cowboy experimentation, beta-products, and occasional shocking successes together with the conservative “long-game” of traditional publishing, where the need to produce a product with integrity is paramount.

Of course, the reality of publishing is that in many ways every single book published by each publisher each season is its own startup. And by adopting some of the principles that drive Silicon Valley, publishers really don’t have anything to lose.

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