Sunday, May 27, 2007

Publisher taps into wisdom of crowds

I complained, a week or so ago, about the undue reliance of publishers on intuition to identify worthy book projects and now, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster (whose author-unfriendly book contracts are in the news, too), is making me eat my words. It just announced the launching of Project Publish, a fantasy stock market in which online traders "buy" shares in actual book proposals. Basically, Touchstone will let the market pick the best proposal and then, if its editors agree with the pick come October, award a publishing contract. (More here from the NYT.) Pretty good test -- should be interesting to see what happens.

There doesn't seem to be any categorization of titles by genre, but there is an interesting business/self improvement proposal up for consideration already -- The Thirteen Virtues. It's a good idea for a book based on Ben Franklin's personal self-help program, although the proposal itself doesn't exactly sparkle.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Of widgets and whatchamacallits

Thanks to Al Vogl, head editor over at The Conference Board Review, I got a quick, paid education in the naming business a couple of months ago. The article that resulted is in the May/June issue and is available online, too:

George Eastman's dry-emulsion film simplified and popularized the art of photography. In 1888, he registered the trademark Kodak to identify his film and the cameras that used it, and began advertising their ease of use: "You press the button, we do the rest." By dint of his prodigious brand-building genius, the Eastman Co. soon laid claim to the leading position in a field of more than fifty competitors. Today, the film that created a corporate giant is tottering toward buggy-whip status, but the name Eastman chose still has legs. In 2006, even in the midst of the turmoil caused by the digital revolution, the Kodak brand ranked seventieth in the world in value, with an estimated worth of $4.4 billion, according to the annual Interbrand Corp./BusinessWeek brand survey. Not a bad return on a manufactured word...(read more)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The core curriculum of business, PGA style

Got a kick out of this press release from Perdue University titled "A Bit of Golf Should be Par for the Course for College Grads." Apparently, golf is important to your career, according Tom Templin, professor of health and kinesiology, who says, "Do your homework in advance, dress appropriately and ask for general guidelines about use of the course. Young people entering the work force may find a basic knowledge about the game helpful, especially as the sport's popularity increases and is a place for business."

Normally, I'd ignore this bit of fluff, but then, I read that Templin is the co-creator of the PGA's Golf: For Business and Life program that is taught at fifty universities. Nice work on the PGA's part to get golf on the business curriculum. (The hockey, foosball and curling leagues should take note.) Here's before and after photos of a student who took the course:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Why can't publishers predict bestsellers?

There's an article coming in the NYT's Sunday Business section on the vagaries of publishing, which reprises the usual "publishing as a crap shoot" theme. All the editors talk about how it's impossible to accurately predict bestsellers and the ones who got lucky pat themselves on the back for their canny intuition -- the editor who acquired the mega-million copy bestseller The Secret describes feeling a tingling in her spine. Yea.

Anyway, Shira Boss, the author of the article, rightly points out that unlike most other businesses, publishing houses have simply never bothered to try to figure out what their customers want. Which means that we'll all be reading essentially the same article next year and the year after and so on...until some smart publisher, who is sick of single digit returns on capital, steps up and says, "Wait a minute, we can map the human genome, why can't we figure out whether people will buy a book" and transforms the business of publishing with some market research data and analytics. Now, that'll be worth a story.

A business historian to remember

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., who founded the field of business history, died on May 9 at the age of 88. His books included:

"Strategy and Structure" (1962) which examined four U.S. industrial giants -- General Motors, DuPont, Exxon, and Sears, Roebuck & Company -- from the 1900s to the 1940s and concluded that "strategy precedes structure.

"The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business" which won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1977 and traced the rise of management as the "most powerful institution in the American economy."

"Scale and Scope: The Dynamics of American Capitalism" (1990) which compared the evolution of managerial capitalism and the largest companies in the United States, England, and Germany and found that "the first movers in capital-intensive industries kept their competitive advantage only if they made three key strategic investments: first, in large-scale, high-speed production; second, in distribution; and, third, in a management structure that could plan, coordinate, and monitor the company's vast operations."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Getting smart about cases

Not having an MBA, I've often wondered about the case method -- how it works and how it can be applied to solving real business problems. I guess I could go to B-school to figure it out, but it looks like Bill Ellet, the publisher of Training Media Review, saved me a couple of years and tens of thousands in tuition by writing The Case Study Handbook.

Ellet has been teaching students at Harvard Business School how to deal with cases for a dozen years and his practical, well organized book covers how to analyze, discuss, and write convincingly about them. So far, I've just dipped into the book, but I've seen enough to know that it's going into my tower o' reading. Seems like managers who have to deal with these things in the real world would want to read it, too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Dell's memo says get your resume together

I thought I'd be getting an interesting new corporate communique for my collection when I heard that a memo from Michael Dell to Dell's 80,000 employees was making the rounds. Dell's had a tough year or two and as a result, a bunch of the company's senior leaders were "streamlined." Then, a couple of weeks ago, according to Michael's memo, the "complete Executive Leadership Team" met to discuss the company's future. And, what did they come up with? Well, here's the first thing:

Fix our Core Business to be competitive.

The Direct Model has been a revolution, but is not a religion. We will continue to improve our business model, and go beyond it, to give our customers what they need. We will simplify our organization to make it easier to hear customers and respond to them. We've already streamlined our executive leadership structure. We need to streamline our management structure to speed decisions and remove bureaucracy. We're making improvements in pricing, product development and fulfillment, and customer experience. We reorganized the product group to more effectively listen to our customers and develop end-to-end customer solutions. We are now revisiting our entire design process to improve our speed-to-market and focus on what customers truly value. Our new Global Operations organization, led by Mike Cannon, is working to take our supply chain and manufacturing to the next level of efficiency and quality. This group is also partnering with the regions and the product group to pursue new manufacturing and distribution models to address the unique needs of our customers in all markets. More broadly, we plan to eliminate overlaps in our organization and activities to enable us to deliver even more value to our customers. We also need to improve sales productivity. These won't be merely exercises in cost-cutting. We will re-invest those resources in the customer solutions that will build Dell for the future.

The NYT thinks this means that Dell is "rethinking direct sales," but it sounds more like double talk for major lay-offs to me. Of course, Dell repeatedly promises that "we're gonna do better in the future," but I don't see any hard details. If I was a Dell manager and I got this memo, I'd be looking for a better future somewhere else.