Four Big Ideas from Futurist, Publishing Prof Paul Saffo

In Global Trade Talk by Edward Nawotka

Paul Saffo, photo Mikkel Aaland

This article appeared in our print edition for BookExpo America 2010. You can read the original here.

By Edward Nawotka

Futurist and Stanford University professor Paul Saffo will be lecturing at the newly re-christened Yale Publishing Course being held July 18-23 in New Haven. As a long-time industry observer, he notes four things publishers can do now to improve their prospects in an increasingly digital future:

Learn from Earlier Disruptive Technologies: “Look at the period of television, from about 1951 to 1964,” says Saffo. “You’ll find that something as simple as the introduction of remote control forced TV producers to completely re-imagine the way they told stories in programs. Suddenly, they had to find a way to hook viewers. History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.”

Don’t Lay Off the Wrong People: Publishers, like many industries, stick to the convention of  “last in, first out.” “But these young people are the ones who know the Internet and digital technology better than anyone, making them indispensable,” says Saffo, who adds, “I don’t think the big publishers have fired their CEOs fast enough.”

Mentoring Up: “Take your newest hires with the best skills and pair with an executive and give them the task of tutoring him or her to use the new digital tools, whatever they may be. Then, test the executive and the resulting grade then goes into the employee file of — not the executive — but of the new hire.”

Innovate from the Outside: Rather than rewarding existing employees with perks like their own imprint, publishers need to look to small start-up publishing companies and form partnerships instead, which is cheap, efficient and introduces new ideas. “It works for the tech industry and it will work for publishing too,” he says.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.