What Publishers Must Understand about Ingenuity in the Digital Age

Smithsonian-Ingenuity-coverTechnology has altered everything about our lives, from how we wake in the morning to how we get ready for bed. And in the process of this massive shift, it’s also radically changed our ideas of how business should be done.

“Only the most purblind reactionary could deny that, thanks to rising public expectation and the march of technology, standards of service have risen in the last ten years to the extent that people will now no longer wait for anything, will no longer stand around while your business solves problems that are entirely of its own making and increasingly expect that the service they buy will have been in some way customised to suit them,” writes publishing industry analyst David Hepworth in InPublishing.

According to Hepworth, the publishing industry has been a dark, quiet spot in this revolution.

“What has this got to do with the publishing business? Very little – and that’s the problem,” Hepworth continues.

“If you look at all the different ways that consumer behaviour has been revolutionised in the last ten years, from the huge things like Spotify and the BBC iPlayer, from the behavioural revolutions old soldiers like me never thought we’d live to see such as the ban on smoking in pubs or the acceptance of gay marriage, all the way down to the tiny gismos that sit inside the computer that we all carry in our pockets that counts our steps, allows us to scan a bar code and look for a cheaper offer, I’m hard pressed to think of one which arose from any arm of the publishing industry,” he chastises.

“In the last ten years, TV has changed out of all recognition. Radio has radically re-engineered its cost base. Even the cinema is doing things in a way it would never have dreamed of doing things in the recent past. Next to that, most magazine and newspaper media is back in the dark ages, and not in a good way at all.

His suggestion? Do away with the beloved idea of “creativity” in favor on “ingenuity.”

“I was talking this over with a colleague who said, the problem is that this only happens when somebody from the outside comes along and looks at how the business could be done in a radically different way and disrupts that business from the outside,” Hepworth explains.

“They Uber-ize it. They re-tool the business from the point of view of the customer, which forces the people running the business to radically alter how they do things. To make an Uber-type change, you must have a clear idea of what people want – in that case cheaper rides – and then be prepared to sacrifice everything else to bring that about. Then you have to bring it to them in such a way that they find simple and, yes, ingenious.”

As publishers continue to define how they fit into a digital world, this idea has serious merit. Creativity is one thing, and good magazines will always need that. But ingenuity…now that’s another thing altogether.