What does a publisher do? Manage security
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?’ The series may thus be thought of as the empiricist counterpart to the series of post listed on the Towards a theory of publishing page. This post is the fourth in the series.
The second post (‘What does a publisher do? Manage stakeholders‘) in this series set out a framework for subsequent posts – a framework based on the types of stakeholders a publisher needs to work with. Today’s post focuses on the management of the owners’, or investors’, interests:
|OWNERS, INVESTORS||Workforce||The state|
In my own company, there are two owners – myself and my fellow director, Karen Haynes. Thus this post focuses on what we do – other, that is, than seek to manage other stakeholders effectively – to protect and develop our own interest. Because I’m writing a descriptive account, rather than a textbook, the emphasis falls here on what – for better or worse – we do in practice, rather than on what ideally we should be doing.
Managing our interest resolves into three operations – (a) security management, (b) strategy management, and (c) brand management. ‘Security management’ here refers to (i) continuity management and (ii) risk management.
None of these – with the possible exception of brand management – constitutes the kind of thing people choose to go into publishing to do. Typically it is the creative activities – working with authors, briefing designers, opening up new markets – that attract people into the industry. Yet stakeholder management, security management, and brand management support those creative activities. Thus they may be thought of as pillars of the creative enterprise.
As publishers, our approach to security management consists of, first, seeking to identify potential threats to the continuity of our business and then taking steps to avoid or mitigate them. The first stage requires us to look outwards, at the business environment, and inwards, at our own processes.
To look outwards, we periodically scan the horizon using a taxonomy of changes in our business environment which we call EPISTLE:
This form of scanning forms a staple activity of an annual review day. At our most recent review day, for example, we identified a risk arising from the fact that our region – Greater Cambridge – is relatively buoyant and prosperous. That may sound paradoxical: the point is that the local buzz might lead us to be over-optimistic, forgetting that the wider market is much weaker.
The operations we perform to mitigate or avoid threats include the following:
1. In our selection of suppliers to work with, we ensure that there is plenty of duplication. It is tempting, once one has decided which supplier is best in class, to send all one’s work in that direction. For example, if a cover designer proves outstanding, it is natural to think, “We’ll ask the designer to do all our covers”. However, such a policy increases the level of operational risk: if the designer were then, for example, to fall ill, that could delay the entire publishing programme. We therefore like to work with more than one of each type of supplier – more than one copy-editor, more than one e-book converter, and so on.
2. When taking out insurance:
a) We use a broker who we feel will understand our business, so that they can seek appropriate policies. Our broker, La Playa, has a particular strength in creative and IP businesses.
b) We treat the annual renewal of our insurance policies not as routine moments, but as an opportunity both to re-read the policies and reconsider the level of cover.
3. In financial management, we prioritise cash flow – even above profitability. We therefore produce frequent and regular cash flow forecast to ensure that we can cover future liabilities, not least the need to pay VAT and Corporation Tax promptly. More precisely, we produce a range of forecasts – since forecasts consisting of a single, precise, figure for each time period are almost bound to prove inaccurate – and, in any case, what really matters is not the most likely scenario, but the worst-case scenario.
In a micro-enterprise often the most crucial element of continuity management is the health of key personnel. We therefore have insurance policies to cover loss of earnings should a director become incapacitated. Such an eventuality is, however, a poor second. Better by far not, if at all possible, to fall sick in the first place.
The implication is that health and fitness is not simply a matter of self-management – of promoting one’s well-being and quality of life: it is also a form of continuity management for the business. Hence the lunchtime walk and the evening swim.