Back in the late ’90s, I worked for the direct marketing arm of a large, well-known publishing house. We sold books. Along came this little startup, which by that time was starting to make a name for itself. It also sold books. Each quarter, the rather robust staff of the company I worked for would gather in a “town hall” meeting to learn about the health of our company. We were fabulous; we were growing; we were acquiring and merging with direct marketing arms of other publishing houses. This little startup wasn’t a concern for them, although it was mentioned in every single meeting.
We were doing everything right, they’d say, and we would stay the course. The numbers don’t lie. The little startup wasn’t going to make it anyway — it was too heavily in debt, it wasn’t going to catch on, it wasn’t a viable business model.
Fast forward 20 years. That iconic publishing house still exists, but it is a shadow of its former self, at least the direct marketing arm where I was employed. They eventually tried to change course, but it was too little, too late. The little book-selling startup that couldn’t? That would be Amazon, and we all know that story.
This isn’t a story about failure though. It’s a story about choosing to evolve, or not. Whether an independent enterprise or a large corporation, we all have to make that choice at some point. Technology, consumer expectations, the pace of the world — they’re in constant flux, and we need to evolve with them.
Change can be difficult. I get that. But it is essential to the health of a business. If you are constantly evolving, rather than trying to reinvent when the stakes are at their highest, there’s a far better chance for survival. Small changes are easier and can still have a significant impact. Sudden, vast changes are akin to making a sharp left with the Titanic to miss that glacier. We all know that story too.
For me, December is a month for reflection. I tick off the boxes. Have we been staying on pace with the industry? Have we been listening to our audience to make sure we’re delivering to their expectations? Am I personally evolving with what I learn? What changes do we need to focus on as we head into next year?
It may not be easy or comfortable, but it’s better than the alternative. Twenty years after those town hall meetings, it seems no one really wants to buy four books for $1 anymore.