Keep Your Skills Sharp and Your Eyes Open
Do any of today’s executives really understand tomorrow’s publishing universe? And, do they truly understand tomorrow’s publishing employee?
These are some brutal questions this industry must face. They are on everyone’s mind. I know this because I have always received letters asking about the state of the publishing industry and its various employment positions. Yet now, there is a much greater urgency. Now, I receive dozens of letters each week with the same common denominator: How can I stay employed? Or, should I continue to seek employment in publishing?
Here is a sampling of some thoughts bouncing around inside my head: What kind of leadership should we seek today? Will we recognize publishing 10 years from now? Will the jobs and responsibilities then be the same as those we have today? Is the recent CMP Media news (among others) of folding printed products and sizable layoffs an aberration or a foretelling? If it’s a foretelling, what is one to do about it? And the bottom-line question is: Should publishing personnel seek new careers?
THE SECOND PUBLISHING REVOLUTION
We are at the end of phase one of the second publishing revolution. The first revolution was the advent of movable type and paper being available for the first time, at the same time. The second revolution started in the 1970s with the change from letterpress to offset printing. At this time, everything was growing, including the necessary workforce to render the quality products we now were capable of producing. These new steps included phototypesetting, color scanning and, into the early 1990s, the new desktop production workflows. This was great for the industry, as my good friend Dr. Joe Webb recently pointed out, because each step required uniquely skilled labor and produced a charge-back to the client.
Now, we are leaving the early stages of this already decades-long second publishing revolution. The Internet and its companion technologies have eliminated many of the multiple stops in the publishing cycle and opened up vast areas of less-expensive systems and methods for distributing our content.
The sophistication of information distribution is improving exponentially. Our former clients and advertisers are embracing emerging new channels and following consumer trends at lightning speeds. Everyone is seeking a one-to-one relationship, which is very difficult—but not impossible—for a dead-tree publisher. The deeper the niche of your product, the greater the appearance of a one-to-one relationship.
So what does all that mean to you and your job? Is there any stability on the horizon? The answer is “yes” for some … and “no” for others. If you are in the right place at the right time and you have the proven skill set, there are plenty of years of productivity left for you. But you must stay ahead of the technological curve.
Remember that the way we distribute information is rapidly changing. It’s a fact that digital distribution will increasingly be the medium of choice as time goes on. To stay employed, you must be an able part of that change. There will always be a need for all the functions we perform today, such as editorial, art and design, production, distribution and sales. But nothing will be as it used to be. We all will need to be retrained and re-acclimated to the multitasking world of print/digital publishing.
What should we do? Keep your eyes open and be ready to jump ship at any time, for any legitimate new position, be it in this industry or another. Let’s face an industry fact: Most employers have little loyalty to you, so, within reason, why should you extend an abundance of loyalty to them? Those days are long past. You must continue to be an excellent worker and valued employee, but changing jobs when the opportunity presents itself is mandatory under favorable conditions.
Stay as informed as possible, and make yourself as indispensable to management as possible. Understand all areas of the business, new and old. Understand and work with all the other departments. Make them think that without you, the magazine would never get out. That is what I have always done. It’s a bit of a shell game, but you wouldn’t believe how much it helps. PE
Bob Sacks (aka BoSacks) is a consultant to the printing/publishing industry and president of The Precision Media Group (www.BoSacks.com). He is publisher and editor of a daily, international e-newsletter, Heard on the Web. Sacks has held posts as director of manufacturing and distribution, senior sales manager (paper), chief of operations, pressman, cameraman and corporate janitor.