We think of innovation as the collection of tactics and practices that every business intending to thrive on the web needs to step up to. The compulsion is two-fold. By way of incentive, technology and technical capabilities continue to grow exponentially; making current work easier and enabling new opportunities. By way of compulsion, consumer's expectations are also changing exponentially; exposing various problems including a new, global, scale of competition and audiences unwilling to stoop to poor user experiences.
We recently had an interesting discussion about the challenges and opportunities that go along with such a project—and with being digitally innovative in general—with a group of book publishers. Here are some of the issues and topics that arose:
Your website is a platform, not a goal. Publishers often make the mistake of focusing on getting their site launched with a very clear picture of the end goal. This is a pitfall. Yes, you need your site to do a bunch of things, but what often gets forgotten is that you really need it to provide a foundation for an evolving purpose. If you have ever laboured around in circles trying to decide what menus and main navigation your site is going to have, you've missed the point: you should make you best guess and move on. It should be almost zero effort to change this stuff later on.
And when I say "You should be able to change..." I really do mean that. We think of a website as a tool box or perhaps a Lego construction that empowers content creators to make the changes they need, when they need them. Most developers get no joy fixing commas or line breaks and those who do eventually stop picking up the phone.
Innovation is a process. Mostly, innovation is about running cheap experiments. Business situations are often sufficiently complex that we do not know the right solution without trying a few things. So we need to be able to experiment cheaply while controlling risk.
Start by sourcing ideas from competitors and peers, and even other industries. Adopt some rigour; know what you require for a success and don't cling to a failure. You have to be able to try your ideas efficiently. Shun friction and big production efforts. Sometimes a crazy idea is totally doable: If it's hard to find that out, you have a problem.
Incremental effort is very useful, especially if the increment has the potential to break-even. For example, allowing end users access to bulk ordering tools online. Often, it takes time for an experiment to play out. We have been involved in innovation processes that play out over several years.
Bad websites are expensive. It leaves us slack-jawed to see presses spinning up a new website every three or four years. The only justification for this is that the original site was so bad it could not be saved. Our experience is that well-built websites last for many years—like five to 10. Even the recent advent of responsive sites delivering for mobile platforms is not a sufficient reason to discard a well-built site. In addition to the waste, learning to use a new site has a cost, as do long timelines to deploy a new site, as does the site where you can't change anything yourself, as does the site with insufficient automation, as does the site that isn't documented or supported and every time the person running the site changes, you lose time and opportunity.
This is a numbers game. The Internet has been extensively conceded to hostile and predatory enterprises; e.g. Facebook and Amazon. On one hand, these enterprises have only their interests in mind and finding durable aligned business interests with them is extremely fraught. On the other, they have reached their highwater mark: They have achieved the most they can as far as books and book retail go, and are now beginning to peck around looking for avenues of innovation. It's clear, too, that they have some pretty serious problems that are built in to their businesses. For example, product discovery on Amazon is poor; brand support is really poor. We hope and imagine that ReaderBound can innovate in such a way that book consumers come to see the community of publishers as a vastly better place to buy, discover, and interact with books, authors, and publishers.
Development partners are not hot-swappable. Innovation is usually an ongoing process and having a highly efficient relationship with your development partner is critical. The alternative is a pattern that often looks like this: by the time your new site gets launched, you need a break from your developer. So you bring in another developer to carry the torch but they consider the previous team's work to be “s**t” and "it's only a matter of time before we replace the whole mess." Every request you make is like pushing a rope. Doing incremental changes as part of an innovation process is laborious and becomes an insurmountable hurdle. In other words, plan to have a long relationship with the people who built your site; it's a question of ROI.
Find a development partner who has some good experience with book publishing. There are many, many things with which you don't want to be the guinea pig. One example is using ONIX data to drive your website; we know of several multi-year development projects that are foundering on this problem. ReaderBound operates on the third or fourth major iteration of our solution to this problem.
Too long, didn't read. All this to say that digital innovation is totally doable with the right approach, the right platform, and the right development partner. And frankly, the alternative—being left behind on the digital front—is simply not an option for today’s publishers.