I’ve been re-reading this classic title, The Innovator’s Dilemma’s by Clayton Christensen, as I continue to think deeply about libraries and marketing and now as Chief Customer Experience Officer. It’s nothing less than a textbook for libraries as we move into an ambiguous future turned upside down by eBooks.
I know, I know. You’ll say that eBook users are only 25% of readers and that data suggests that people reading on eBooks read more. To that I say: start reading this book right now.
eBooks represent what Christensen calls disruptive technology. In the short term these innovations are more fringe than mainstream, underperform in some ways, but in the near term transform behavior permanently. Some great examples he cites:
Established Technology Disruptive Technology
Printed greeting cards Free greeting cards via the internet
Offset printing Digital printing
Graduate schools of management In-house corporate management training
Cardiac bypass surgery Angioplasty
Standard textbooks Modular digital textbooks
But here’s where we really need to pay attention. Why did companies fail to adapt – like Sears, Kodak, etc.? Because they did the same things that make companies succeed: they listened to their customers. And I’d suggest that, like many in libraries, we listen to ourselves: because people who work in libraries do so because they love books, they are blinded by their own beliefs and aren’t seeing what is happening.
I was talking recently to a group of staff and talking about how eBooks represent serious competition to our industry that traditionally hasn’t faced competition and so doesn’t recognize it. Oh, no, they said. People in our neighborhoods don’t have eBooks and so that isn’t relevant. But guess what? The taxpayers who fund our work are buying eReaders and are beginning to ask why should they fund an outmoded institution. Seriously. I’ve had this conversation several times this year and it is scaring the heck out of me.
But rather than run scared, I maintain that’s where marketing plays a key role. Marketing helps define value and then – through multiple channels – communicates that value. And we need to make sure we emphasize that value as something much more than books. It will be hard work and we have a lot of people to get on board, but I believe it is possible.