by Dan Balow
On September 3, 1967 the world changed. It was a day remembered for chaos and disillusionment, despair and confusion. No, it wasn’t because the last episode of “What’s My Line?” aired on U.S. television.
The above picture is what happened in Sweden the day the country switched from driving on the left to the right side of the road. Their neighbors, Norway and Finland had already changed, but alas, Sweden held out until they could wait no longer.
Predictably, throughout history, big changes have been viewed first with skepticism and then as a threat to the groups that stand to lose the most or simply like the way things are.
In 1876 an internal memo at the Western Union Company, who were making a lot of money with telegrams stated, “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently no value to us.”
I wonder how that turned out?
H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers was making a lot of money in the silent movie business, so it was no mystery why he commented in 1927, “Who wants to hear actors talk?” (Expletive deleted)
Come to think about it, maybe he was right…
Publishing in the broadest sense (books, magazines, newspapers) is in the midst of the most chaotic change since Gutenberg invented the use of moveable type for his printing press. Digital media of all kinds are threatening a way of life.
There have been other challenging times. Print media was a mature industry when radio broadcasting started in the 1920’s and television in the mid 20th Century. Initially perceived as a threat, it transformed over time into an opportunity. Some print media companies actually owned the electronic media that was changing the world.
Eighty years ago, some publishers felt threatened when small format mass-market paperbacks were sold as a way for making literature more affordable. While hardcover books were only $2 back in the 1930’s, that would be comparable to about $50 today, so finding a way to make books cheaper was important, especially in the Great Depression.
A pattern emerges when something threatens the interests of another. This played out when cars were a threat to horse companies, telephones were threat to telegram companies, personal computers were a threat to big mainframe companies, etc.
When something new comes up, the first thing that happens is:
Phase One – Dismissed as a fad by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.
If the new thing persists, then the volume is turned up:
Phase Two – Attacked as dangerous by those who stand to lose the most or like the status quo.
If that does no good, then we reluctantly go to:
Phase Three – Accepting of the new thing, but reminding everyone that this too will pass and we will most likely move on to something else eventually.
If it still won’t go away, we move to the next part:
Phase Four – Accepting that the new thing as important and the need to adapt to it but only in a limited way because it will never replace the status quo.
At this point, there is no pain as we have isolated the new thing like a virus, still keeping the status quo in place. But it is in Phase Five when the pain begins:
Phase Five – Seriously looking at creative solutions to making changes, some which are difficult and unpopular with those who still love the status quo.
Finally, after the pain of change, we arrive at the birth of the final step:
Phase Six – View the new thing as an opportunity, whatever that means. Begin to change the way we do everything.
Today, most Christian publishers would be in phases five and six. (I am not limiting this to digital books, but to every process of publishing) If you are an author and not in one of the last two phases in your professional world view, you should do some re-calibrating. Next week, I’ll tell you what you the kinds of things you should be considering.