Charting a Course through Disruptive Times: Report from the 2012 Yale Publishing Course

An overflowing week talking about book publishing brings almost as many questions as answers. E-books: What formats should you publish in? What production workflows work best? Is there a place for enhanced e-books? How about e-book access that comes free with purchase of the traditional printed book? And how do we price these things anyway?

baenschThese and other (not solely e-book) publishing questions were tackled at "Leadership Strategies in Book Publishing," held in late July on Yale's stately New Haven campus as part of the annual Yale Publishing Course (their Leadership Strategies in Magazine & Digital Publishing ran one week earlier).

Founded in 2010, the Yale Publishing Course is the Ivy League offspring of the long-running Stanford University Publishing Course, and brings together a classroom ranging from mid-managers to executives (including a large international contingent) from publishers large and small, along with industry leaders from big as well as niche houses (Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster; David R. Godine Publishers, Andrews McMeel Publishing); technologists (Google Books, Flipboard); Yale professors (School of Management, Yale Law); retailers (Barnes & Noble, Just the Right Book); an academic librarian; and others.

As Yale Publishing Course Director Tina C. Weiner puts it, "Yale Publishing Course gives professionals from all types of publishing companies—large and small, trade and academic—the opportunity to step away from their daily routines and spend a week considering the major issues and challenges facing publishers in an increasingly digital environment."

Aside from ever-present discussions on all things digital at this intensive, weeklong seminar on, really, most anything facing the book business in these challenging times, a recurring theme was change management. What are the best structures for incorporating innovation into long-standing (dare I say stodgy?) publishing ventures? How do we get staff on board with change—and what if we can't? How do we change how we're doing things without abandoning those old things that still need to be done, and without marginalizing emerging opportunities? If the very nature of our work in today's environment doesn't bring these questions to the fore, no doubt a Yale School of Management presentation documenting the rise (and inevitable fall) of leading companies (remember Kodak?) through time will.

For some people, social media is the Web.

Over the last ten years, there has been so much disruption in publishing, writ large, that even the disrupters have been disrupted—social media is the new search engine optimization, search is getting more social, and social is getting more search. So for marketers like myself, particularly fascinating were discussions of the role of, and strategies for, social media marketing in the age of Facebook, Twitter... and now, Pinterest—especially the presentations of Penguin's Jeff Gomez ("The New Online Reality") and HarperCollins' Carolyn Pittis ("Managing Change in the Age of the Algorithm").

In this new world, people are suffering from information overload, and traditional means of discovery are rapidly fragmenting. Personal recommendation has taken on heightened importance in buying decisions, and with social media and the pervasiveness of smartphones, the reach of personal recommendation has never been greater. So, do we stop our old ways of marketing, and adopt the new? In fact we can't stop communicating in the "old" ways, we just need to add new ways, always aware that communications move along faster and faster.

And more particularly, when to tweet? Early mornings for news, evenings for discussions. And a lot of people are checking in during late morning and early afternoon hours. Also don't forget, depending on your audience, your evening might be their early morning. And how to measure impact? Pittis mentions one handy rubric, books sold per 1,000 impressions. Also, there are more and more "social listening" and "social CRM" tools to help, such as TweetReach and Radian6.

In addition to a series of intensive presentations (most all with very active discussion), the course also provided numerous opportunities for smaller-scale discussions, including presenter "office hours," daily lunch roundtables, as well as social networking at after-class events, including a reception at the beautiful Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and a barbecue at Yale's golf course.

With all of the critical challenges facing publishing today—not the least of them digital—there has probably never been a better time to step away from the keyboard and phone for an (admittedly intensive) week to recharge and reassess. The Yale Publishing Course offers a great opportunity to do just that.

Attendance is limited, and tuition of $4,995 includes course materials, daily breakfasts, lunches, snacks, receptions, and dinner on three nights. Housing not included, but the lovely and renovated New Haven Hotel, in downtown, was offering a special rate of $105/night for course participants, with daily, chartered buses to and from the course grounds on Yale's campus.

Jeff Hester
Senior Marketing Manager, University of California Press