Evolution of Organisational Structures – Legacy and Opportunity for the Publishing Industry

Studying specific sectors within the creative industries environment can be a useful way to understand the limits and opportunities for these industries to learn from each other and collaborate. Despite being a collection of industries that are increasingly aware of the opportunities of converged, creative products and which share a project-based, highly fluid way of working, each specific sector draws with it a history of management and organizational structures that can still limit its ability to manoeuvre effectively in light of new challenges.

Contemporary organizational structures are the result of a long history, one that can make it more difficult to change direction when boundaries change. The publishing industry has evolved over many centuries and its organization today reflects its past. Even before the printing press the copying of manuscripts involved a production line around systems such as the Pecia (breaking manuscripts into sections for rapid copying). Once the press was developed this made way for rapid spread of book production –printers being the main producers and distributors, forming the embryo industry. They took the risk, paying a fee to the authors, and considered their market potential: they needed to assess their commercial opportunity to sell and make a profit, having paid for the investment in cost and time up front. These entrepreneurial businesses developed rapidly: they could be in monasteries and universities, who recognized the opportunity to spread their own work and enable learning; or they might be the printers based at central market places such as St. Paul’s churchyard where customers knew to congregate for news and information or printers in regional centres who were able to tap into growing markets outside London.

Socioeconomic change fuelled the development in subsequent centuries. With the growth in literacy, a rising educated class, the spread of renaissance learning, the need to promulgate a growing variety of religious theses so the publishing industry grew, focusing in the UK around the Company of Stationers where the various trades from paper to scribes coalesced. Early printer entrepreneurs developed their thinking around publishing; Aldus Manutus for instance developed specific commercial approaches to his publications: as high quality editing, a specific choice of books reflecting in its way a list, new book formats for portability and type sizes to increase clarity while also benefitting from more words per page.

Later into the 19th Century , growing urban populations, a developing empire increasing literacy, wealth and leisure, coupled with developments in printing and paper technologies, as well as development of rapid distribution led to a burgeoning of the industry, alongside the rising importance of the author. An emergent mass market drove economies of scale and financial structures enabled more effective investment which meant both an opportunity for more entrepreneurs to try out new businesses (many major houses started up at this time) as well as a growing professionalization of the industry. The decoupling of some functions within the industry – printers and publishers for instance also took place.

The precepts of management and organizational thinkers such as Fayol, Taylor and Weber, and later Drucker and Porter, led to a development throughout the 20th Century of an industry that followed functional lines, organizational hierarchies, division of labour and production-based approaches; it organized itself broadly around a value chain. Some innovation (Tachnitz and Penguin) and some new intermediaries at the author end – literary agents – took place. Later there was  increasing digitization of aspects – still essentially around production, – vertical integration, and a growth conglomerates in an attempt to internationalize of the industry but reflect a continuity with the previous century without any more fundamental changes taking place: the structure of business was reasonably recognizable in structure from the 19th Century.

By the end of the 20th Century the digital environment has disrupted many aspects of publishing. The development occurred first with back office systems, then content and prod management, by web 2.0 a direct marketing and sales opportunity and finally with the delivery of digital products to the consumer. This of course led to the opportunities to by pass elements of a traditional value chain and disintermediate. Threats from large IT  providers to individual self-publishing all put pressure on a traditional structure.

No wonder then that a structure that has drawn its own boundaries, and refined its supply processes, due to the need to distribute effectively to its market, has many aspects of legacy that can cause problems. Legacy whether in relation to past activities – printing presses, warehouses  – or more embedded in, for example, the business models that support the creative activity, all cause problems when compared to new competitors: these new competitors maybe wealthy global conglomerates whose first business is not content or nimble pioneers, from self-publishers to lean startups. In an industry that for centuries has been focused on supply it is now becoming much more important to   understand demand.

So how far are the traditional organizational structures appropriate in a digital age? Publishing has had to deal with legacy. The physical legacy of supply chains has been effectively dismantled and made flexible – publishing is clearly a modern business making good use of technology for content management. However the business models are still very much embedded: the sales of print hardback, or similar structures supporting costs for seeking new talent, digitalization and marketing. Publishing is a risk tolerant sector in many ways, but only to some extent. Seeking new authors and managing content has always been the area of publishing innovation. But new styles of innovation may be required. Innovating around format and delivery and not just about content itself.

Creative Industries are traditionally flexible project oriented highly networked businesses. Publishing reflects this but has systematized its ability to innovate. Publishing may need to reimagine its activities and reformulate its approaches. It needs new systems to compete effectively to take an exploratory and entrepreneurial approach; it needs to be able to move quickly and to develop ways to stimulate learning and creativity swiftly. Collaborations will need to go wider, involve more participants, encompass more varied expectations and outcomes, with a focus on innovation and creativity.  This ties in with themes of a networked society building on theories of convergence cultures, collective intelligence and new network organizations. A new understanding of content and its value to consumers will also be key. New ways of working to benefit from blurring boundaries will become more central: the ability to respond quickly with new partners; the development of wider ranging latent organizations that can be put in place quickly; ways to facilitate collaboration across boundaries with clever work spaces; the structural ability to adopt new systems quickly and continuously. As boundaries come down, publishers are going wider – not just collaborating with film companies and museum archives but with software incubators or educational institutions to present information and entertainment in more flexible, consumer-oriented ways. All these are opportunities for publishing companies respond effectively to demand, rather focus on supply; and it is clear from the old companies new organizations are beginning to emerge that are starting to take these imperatives into their very structure. This will be a change in direction for an industry that currently is concentrating on divesting itself of its business legacy and is putting the first stages of new structures in place before it can take full advantage of the opportunities.

FRANIA HALL

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Categories: collaboration, creative industries, digital, organisations, publishing