What does a publisher do? Stakeholder management revisited

What does a publisher do? is a series of posts designed to answer that question, interpreted not in the sense of ‘What functions do publishers fulfil?’, but rather ‘What operations do publishers (well, this publisher, at any rate) perform?’ This post is the third in the series.

In ‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders‘ (13 Dec), I wrote that as publishers we seek to (a) identify our stakeholders and (b) manage our relationships with them effectively. In the rest of that post, I explored (a); here I wish to develop (b). 

To formulate our stakeholder management strategy we use a straightforward tool, namely a graph. On one axis we plot the degree of influence the stakeholder has on our business; on the other, we plot the importance of the stakeholder to our business. From this we can derive a quadrant model:

Low influence on business

High influence on business

High importance to business
Low importance to business

An example of a stakeholder we place top-left is Nielsen Book Services. They matter hugely to us: without their Bookdata service, retailers and library suppliers would find it difficult to source our publications. And, in the UK, there is no ready substitute. Yet Nielsen have little influence over us; the kind of data Nielsen require – ISBNs, formats, prices etc. – is the kind that we would generate anyway. And the PubWeb service for uploading data is open 24/7.

An example of a ‘bottom-left’ stakeholder is the London Book Fair (LBF). Each year I wonder whether to attend; each year I do; and in each year I come away having found it useful. But not that useful: these days we can both communicate with other businesses and gain information using online services. And LBF has little influence on us, besides requiring us each spring to block off a few days in our diary.

In the bottom-right, we have the tax authorities – in the UK, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). HMRC matters little to us: in fact, we prefer not to think about them at all! But they have huge influence: they determine the way we keep records, the time at which we make payments. In fact, they influence our weekly, monthly, seasonal, and annual cycles – each of which has time set aside to ensure we fulfil their requirements to the letter.

Finally, top-right, come those stakeholders who are important to us and who exert an influence on us. For example, library suppliers and aggregators. We rely on them to make our publications readily available to libraries. And, though they compete with each other, one cannot simply substitute one for another, since each occupies its own position in the market (some libraries prefer to source through MyiLibrary, for example, while others prefer Dawsonera). Moreover, they have influence on us: each has its own technical requirements regarding file formats and we need to ensure our workflow fulfils those requirements.

According to the conventional wisdom of stakeholder management, one needs to treat stakeholders differently according to which quadrant they occupy. Top-left stakeholders are said to require special initiatives; bottom-left stakeholders are seen as low priority and so merit little attention; bottom-right stakeholders are seen as a source of risk and so should be carefully managed and monitored; while those in the top-right require the best working relationships. So:

Low influence on business High influence on business
High importance to business  special initiatives maintain good relationships
Low importance to business  low priority source of risk:monitor and manage carefully

For the most part, we go along with the conventional wisdom. We do indeed give LBF (bottom-left) little priority. We don’t follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever: we just turn up. In contrast, we do follow Nielsen (top-left) on Twitter and we do read their e-newsletters, just to ensure we’re up to date with their services: and we do make use of their customer care services, phoning our account manager to discuss points that are not self-evident (registering varied arrangements for distribution, for example).

Sometimes, though, the scope for implementing the conventional wisdom is limited. For example, I’m not very clear what a micro-enterprise can do to maintain a good relationship with a library supplier or aggregator beyond making sure we meet their requirements.

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2 Responses to “What does a publisher do? Stakeholder management revisited”

  1. Excellent and characteristic Monographeristic (what is the adjective?) clarity. Do I smell a book or a course here?

    • Thank you! I have planned the series with, amongst others, students on publishing courses in mind. And I have found myself thinking, while drafting forthcoming posts, that this might in due course morph into some further kind of publication/resource. I’ll have to judge from reader feedback what kind of potential for development it might have.

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