We have some staunch Breaking Bad fans here at Vearsa. Over coffee recently (the team have breakfast together every Friday), we got talking about how Walter White & Co. would handle eBook publishing and distribution. As you can imagine, we drew some interesting parallels. Although not many publishers want to go from being book loving professionals to violent, millionaire drug kingpins, there are still plenty of lessons eBook publishing can learn from Walter White’s mesmerizing transformation in Breaking Bad.
Whatever you may think about WW (!!!!!!), anti-hero or downright villain, he’s an example for anyone looking to grow a business in a new marketplace and drive revenues through focusing on margins, efficiency, scale. He may be ruthless but you have to admire Walter’s journey from low level amateur to top dog in his profession.
1) Don’t be afraid of change
Walter is the poster child for change. Fear of dying compelled him to re-evaluate his goals, take chances, reassess risk, look at new ways of achieving objectives and in general, do things he didn't think himself capable of doing. We all need to make changes in our businesses once in a while and if you are too afraid to take that plunge, it can end up hurting you. Digital is certainly a different mindset and skillset I know, so can be intimidating People and companies can be afraid of change, its normal, but you only have to look at some of the industry success stories to see the potential rewards of getting it right.
If publishing companies are unable to accept that the decline in print values means they must fundamentally change their product mix and route to market, then they will carry on as normal and miss out on the opportunity to embrace and maximise digital.
2) Never settle for less than the best product, ever
Like an Albuquerque based, meth-dealing version of Larry Page, Walter isn’t satisfied unless he’s producing only the best product. He goes to significant lengths to get the right product in place, and takes no prisoners in his pursuit of this goal. In eBook terms, just converting the physical book and using the same metadata doesn’t work. There are differences in the digital product. Publishers have a range of matters to consider prior to eBook conversion because there is a unique opportunity to consider how their content can be enhanced. From proofreading their file once more and making those editorial changes they've been meaning to do, right up to including relevant audio or video files for a user-enhanced experience, eBooks provide the opportunity to enhance the reader experience. Publishers can update cover images, make content amendments, page replacements and even bring references/footnotes up-to-date.
Linking to external websites is a way to bring fresh, up-to-date content into the heart of your title, particularly for non-fiction eBooks. Some publishers guide readers to similar or related titles in the final pages of the book, and even provide previews taking advantage of the high they feel at the end of a good book to sell additional products. Unlike print books, there is no break in supply, eBooks are always readily available for purchase at any time on any day.
And finally, my big issue with the product (as usual) is the eBook metadata. Hopefully you are not relying on the blurb written around commission stage. Publisher’s metadata can sometimes be aimed at booksellers in the print world for pre-sales. Your eBook metadata shouldn’t be a replica of the print book metadata. Simply put it doesn’t translate online. If you want customers to find your product you will need to get more creative with eBook metadata.
3) Price is the revenue earner!
Walter was always obsessed about getting his price right, and ended up with a higher value product that he could sell at a higher margin, because the demand was there for it. When Jesse tells him that a lesser quality drug will be more than good enough for addicts to come knocking, Walter stands firm on principle. And, ultimately, his stubborn side is rewarded. Because his “Blue Meth” is differentiated as the best drug on the market, Walter and Jesse can charge a significant premium on the street. If Walter created ‘Blue Meth’ and sold it at a lower price he would have lost out on a huge amount of margin, and might have affected his brand positioning in the market – becoming more mass-market than high end niche.
Pricing in lots of ways is part of having the best product, because if your eBook is available online, globally, and you are working hard to drive traffic to Amazon or Apple or whoever to stimulate sales, it can be all in vain if you don’t have the right price point. Hopefully someday the retailers will open the doors on this and let us see traffic data against conversion data, so we can really get to work on this and find out the demographics and buying behaviour of readers.
4) Be picky with whom you do business
Not everybody is a good partner. Walter learned that the hard way — first with Tuco Salamanca, then with Gustavo Fring. Sometimes he went into relationships because of a lack of alternatives, or because he was led to believe that his partner was a reliable, experienced choice but it’s a brave new world and sometimes the legacy partner options are working from old business models, using outdated technology, who have lost touch with the marketplace.
In these relationships, Walters goals were not correctly aligned with the goals of his partners, and credit to Walter, he moved quickly to end those business relationships before they could end it first. What he learned through experience, publishers can learn from him. We encourage publishers to pick partners carefully. Your business buddies may not be deranged psychopaths or cold-blooded killers, but they can still bring significant disruption to your company if they are not the right fit. Work with people you respect, who have the same mind-set and the same goals as you do. That way you’re always on the same page.
5) Take control
At its core, Breaking Bad can be viewed as a study on control. Each season is a different struggle for control through different characters, obstacles and situations. Walter’s philosophy seems to be that control is won by careful planning, which leads to market domination and vanquishing competitors. There is no doubt that the publishing industry is witnessing a major transformation and while some progressive publishers are keeping control of their strategy, others are lagging behind or focusing on the wrong priorities. Within a few years, the vast majority of all books sold will be sold online, either in print or digital. New publishing models and workflows have developed characterised by supply chain integration, cross functional co-operation and a two-way flow of information, rather than the traditional ‘push’ method.
It is clear that the rules are changing. Information flows quickly and in many different directions. Publishers are engaging with their readers and tailoring their list accordingly. Different departments are working closely together with the end goal in sight, using technology to control the supply chain from start to finish. Books have traditionally been the epitome of one-way information, but eBooks are changing that.
But how do publishers maintain control of all this? We have identified 5 key areas for publishers to focus on when looking at control:
1. Cost containment – Rapid, constant change is rocking this traditional area of strength and outstripping supply chain executives’ ability to adapt.
2. Visibility – Flooded with more information than ever, supply chain executives still struggle to “see” and act on the right information.
3. Risk – Territory rights, pricing models, compliancy and DRM are all significant challenges for C suite publishing executives.
4. Customer intimacy – Despite reader-driven mantras, publishers are still set up for B2B more than B2C.
5. Globalization – New sales channels in new markets, globalization has proven to be more about revenue growth than cost savings.
6) Be indispensable in the workplace
Publishers have to add value. In Walter’s case, being indispensable means he future-proofs himself. Whether the supply chain likes it or not! By making himself a key cog in the process of a high-margin business, Walter has shielded himself from harm on multiple occasions. He also moves quickly to identify and eliminate potential replacements (Gale Boetticher, anyone?). Running a meth lab is a high stakes job.
Authors now have different needs and wants than they used to. They require different management and a successful eBook platform can be a crucial value add. We see this in lots of publishers now, particularly in niche areas where the publisher can build experience and communities around a specific vertical.
7) Maximize your margins and efficiencies
Walter and Jesse's search for a way to distribute their product is one of the major narratives of the show. Dealt with in particular in the episode about setting up a distribution network in several American states in Season 2, Episode 12 they quickly find out, reach is vital. Unless you can secure a large reach, you are limiting your revenue opportunities. Dealing directly with multiple *ahem* outlets in multiple markets causes them significant problems (Combo, Badger and Skinny Pete are hard men to manage!). In pretty much every series, Walter and Jessie look for wider reach (even international reach) that can help them grow their sales while they focus on what they are good at, creating an excellent product.
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