Friday, December 26, 2008

Applying the Boston Matrix, Part II

Business first. You all have probably noticed that I have stopped blogging on the weekends. Life is just too complicated right now so I have moved to a Monday through Friday schedule. Sorry I have not mentioned it previously, but it was hard for me to accept that I was not going to be able to get back on a seven-day-a-week schedule.

On Friday, I described the Boston Matrix, a tool investment analysts use to assess a company's product lines. Lynne Connolly (a writer with a MBA) mentioned the matrix on Christmas Day. I thought she was on target and want to use it in addressing the larger publishing industry.

Let's start with Harlequin, a company that is doing a spectacular job of reinventing itself after a couple of rough years.

For decades, Harlequin's book clubs were their cash cows. Women could select the feature that would best jumpstart their fantasies--alpha heroes, exotic locations, thriller plots--and Harlequin would send them half a dozen books in an imprint offering that feature every single month. While some critics denigrated the books for being too formulaic, Harlequin understood that--like men--women have specific fantasies. The individual imprints allowed them to step right into their own fantasy without a lot of buildup.

Those same women liked the shorter category-length novel. A category romance is usually about 55,000 words, which--if you don't have a lot of extra time in which to read--works well.

Harlequin initially fought several world-changing trends in romance reading. The advent of the Internet meant that women could now download specific books whenever they wanted to read rather than waiting to receive six books that were selected for them by the publisher (plus an expensive shipping fee). The on-line publishers offered varying book lengths from novella to full-length. And, finally, women could now buy erotic romance on-line.

After a couple of really ugly years financially, Harlequin began pouring money into the matrix's question marks. They set up a digital warehouse and became the first major publisher to have ALL their front list available on-line. They invested in manga. They began experimenting with different lengths and differing levels of sensuality. They also began testing different modes of delivery.

In other words, while maintaining their cash cow (the book clubs), they began investing in the next star AND divesting themselves of their dogs.

Later this week, we will apply the matrix elsewhere in publishing.

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