Embracing Change


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.

Your turn!

8 Responses to Embracing Change

  1. Ron Estrada January 14, 2014 at 8:04 am #

    If you want to know what’s going to stick, watch the teenagers and young adults. I graduated high school in 1984. We thought those computers were cool. If you had one of the old IBM clunkers, every kid in the neighborhood was at your house playing Dungeons & Dragons (which you quickly learned how to cheat). The kids know what’s going to become mainstream. We ignore them at our own risk.

    • Heather Day Gilbert January 14, 2014 at 9:45 am #

      GREAT point, Ron. Not that all youth trends are great, but I totally agree. Kids are finding the easiest ways to do things/access things. I was resistant to getting a Kindle at first, but now I love it. You’re right–ignore at your own peril.

      And Dan, I totally agree. Although as an indie author, I still see industry leaders stuck in phase three–reminding people that e-book sales are “flattening” and that self-pubbed books aren’t making tons of money in general. Most of the time, personal interests are being protected. And it’s not always the interests of the authors.

      I do think there are many who are still denying that indie authors can make it ON THEIR OWN, without outside help. But authors know we can and will do whatever it takes to get our books out to our readers. We will make any sacrifice to do it, despite the naysayers, despite the trends. It’s always been this way for authors, even back in the days when women published under male names to get their writing out.

      I’m thrilled to see such a forward-thinking post on an agency site. Would love to read more hopeful posts like this that embrace the changes instead of try to shoot them down or ignore them.

      • Rich Bullock January 18, 2014 at 9:11 am #

        Heather, you say it perfectly with: “as an indie author, I still see industry leaders stuck in phase three–reminding people that e-book sales are “flattening” and that self-pubbed books aren’t making tons of money in general.”

        I see this, too, and am weary of the tired rhetoric. The truth is, most traditionally published books are making tons of money, either—at least, not for the author.

        I see indie publishing as the ultimate entrepreneurship. We may not all make it big but, like Lloyd says to Mary in Dumb & Dumber: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeah!!”

  2. Jeanne Takenaka January 14, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    I had to laugh as I envisioned the chaos of the day Sweden changed their driving laws. Oh the frustration!

    It’s interesting how most people resist change, at least in the beginning. Thanks for outlining the phases. Good thoughts to ponder. I don’t want to be one who holds onto the status quo because it’s where I feel safest, it’s the most convenient or because I don’t want to change. Change is a part of life.

    I agree with Ron. The kids know what’s up and coming. Thanks for this post, Dan. I’m looking forward to the next one.

  3. Sandy Mauck January 14, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    Being an up and coming, the whole digital change is disconcerting but I may have different reasons. Most of the people that I know that really read, hate to read a book digitally. They love to hold that book in their hand but that is not the biggest question of change that concerns me. If books turn digital, we are completely dependent on power to read. Sounds fun, nice, easy for now but what could our future hold that would keep the truth from the hands of the people?
    Love your analogies! Change is always difficult.

    • Jackie Layton January 14, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

      Hi Sandy,

      I offered to buy my college son a Kindle before he spent the fall semester in Spain. He packed a few fiction books to take with him and told me he’d rather read them. He even found a library while in Spain.

      The interesting thing is, he always wants the newest phone or other electronic device. So let’s hope traditional books stick around.

  4. Nora Spinaio January 14, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    Yes, good change is good. Bad change is bad. And, change for the sake of change…well, you get the picture (or is it pic now?).

    Paper will never go completely out. I’ll tell my age by saying that when I was in high school and trade school there was all this talk about society being paperless by the year 2000. There’s more paper being generated in offices today than there ever were. Email, IM, and all the rest of it are just helps to generate said paper.

    As for digital vs paper books, I don’t see it as a versus thing as all. I see it as a partner thing…hand in hand. Where there’s a market and all that.

    When in doubt publish both.

    Just me.

  5. Peter DeHaan January 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    Dan, what a great post.

    Another thought is that we need to continually re-evaluate the impact and opportunity of developments, since they continually evolve.

    For example, when I first heard about email in the early 80s, I dismissed it because the only people who could use it were defense contractors and those associated with major universities. So for the next ten years I ignored email, not realizing Internet access had become open to all.

    The lesson I learned is just because something may not be worth considering today, tomorrow things could change.

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