NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Last month in the book-publishing world, something fascinating happened. The billionaire author J.K. Rowling launched a new site selling her popular books directly to customers, and also provided a social network centered on reading the books. She retained all the digital rights to her books, so she is now essentially a self-published author in the digital world.
As the leader of one of the largest Christian resource companies in the world, I certainly took note of this development. Our organization has been around since 1891, and the core of what we have done for 120 years is publishing in the print world. To say our world is changing would be a huge understatement.
The advent of digital products is certainly a challenge for print publishers. Not only is the delivery system changing, but also authors like J.K. Rowling no longer need the middle person commonly called the publisher. Like the radical transformation of the recording industry, the book-publishing world is being challenged at its very core.
I have written and spoken on the issue of change numerous times. But my perspective has always been that of the change agent, or helping individuals and organizations deal with change that has affected them. Now my perspective is different. I am on the receiving end of change. And the change is so radical and transformative that I am learning new lessons on this issue with a whole new perspective.
So, how do individuals and organizations respond to change? Particularly, how do we respond to change that is inevitable and substantial? My response has thus far involved four progressive phases:
— Phase 1: Accept reality.
I bought my first e-reader five years ago. I had been keeping up with the developments in the digital world, but that device brought me to a new reality. The world I knew was changing, and it would soon change rapidly. I could do like so many others, and argue that it’s a fad that will soon fade, or I could accept the new world in which I would be living.
It is easier to deny reality and think we can return to the comfort of the world we know. But that denial will only make matters worse when the evidence of the change becomes overwhelming. I had to accept the new reality.
— Phase 2: Fully grasp the impact.
For several years, our organization has been moving into the digital world. There remain many unanswered questions about platforms, monetization and acceptance of digital books and other publications. But one thing we do know. The impact of this new reality is huge. We are regularly evaluating our speed into this delivery system and our customers’ desire for digital options.
When change affects an individual or organization, a major step in dealing with the change is to understand its impact and longevity. Is it indeed a fad or temporary change? Or is it something that will become a new normal, where failure to respond will be final or fatal? Many organizations fail because they do not fully grasp the impact of change that is upon them.
Phase 3: Ask why the change is taking place.
There are different reasons why the digital publishing world is becoming more pervasive as the choice of readers and authors. In most cases purchasing a digital publication offers both a better price and a more convenient method of purchasing the product.
But perhaps the greater reason the change is taking place is that customers, both authors and readers, now have greater control over what they write and read. The role of an intermediary, such as a publisher, is changing at the least, and being minimized at most. Ultimately, power is being shifted from the middle person to both the creator of content and the user of that content.
When we are on the receiving end of change, it is critically important to understand the genesis of that change. Only then can we move forward positively and proactively.
— Phase 4: Learn how to move forward with the new reality.
When change is inevitable, we have one of two larger options. First, we can bemoan the new state of reality and fight it as long as possible. Or more positively, we can learn how we can best move forward in the new world with new ideas, new creativity and new hope. The latter is admittedly more challenging. But the former is a formula for decline and even death.
Our organization is embracing the new reality of the digital world with hope and enthusiasm. We don’t have all the answers, but we are energized to find and implement new solutions each day.
WHEN CHANGE COMES
I know someone who has numerous health problems related to lifestyle choices of overeating, smoking and lack of exercise. His physician recently gave him a clear choice: change or die. If he continued his current lifestyle, he would likely die in two or three years. But if he made serious changes, he could live a normal life expectancy.
A simple but profound choice: change or die.
I am amazed at businesses, individuals, churches, and other organizations that have the same choice, but refuse to make lifesaving changes. And, by default, they choose to die.
It’s a lot more fun to talk to others about the change they need to make. It’s difficult when you’re on the receiving end of change. But it is possible to embrace the change and be stronger than before.
May God give us the wisdom to know when to embrace change, and the courage to know when to make the tough decisions when we are on the receiving end of change.
Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources. This column first appeared at ThomRainer.com.