Small is the new smaller

Small is the new smaller: Because of the way I have my newsreader flowing news to me, the following two items just “flowed” by together:

What Dave Winer said in a post titled “It’s a Different World“:

“…we don’t have to convince the editors of PC Mag and PC Week that our products matter. When the big dinosaurs, Microsoft, Lotus and Ashton-Tate, and later Borland, wanted our market, the publications had little choice but to give it to them. Now I am a publication myself. I can communicate directly with users. That changes everything.”

Erick Schonfeld (of Business 2.0 magazine) said in a post titled “What Comes After the Blockbuster? The Nichebuster“:

“…media companies will need to shift away from creating a few blockbusters every year, and instead try to create hundreds of nichebusters. Admittedly, this will be a big challenge. But if they do it right, media companies could actually reach more people and create deeper connections to many different audiences than they do today.”

For much of the past 15 years, I’ve been known in a small corner of the magazine publishing world as a “smaller publisher.” For example, in the past, I’ve chaired the “smaller publishers” committee of the American Business Media. I can look around the room of any convention or conference or seminar of magazine publishers and see that the vast majority of “human beings” in the room would consider themselves a “smaller publisher.”

Ironically, the term “smaller publisher” has no definition or size designation. When I’m at meetings with the heads of the companies that publish magazines like the one Dave mentions, I’ve stop being surprised (if I ever was) when the CEO of a company I consider massive attends a session that has the label “smaller” attached to it. I know it’s more about the session’s topic or the people who are speaking — it has nothing to do with “size.” I’ve learned over several years that engaging “conversations” (and playing tennis) with other human beings trumps “my company is bigger than your company” any day.

In other words, in the real world, we hang out with and listen to people we think have something interesting or enlightening or entertaining to say, those who we can laugh with and share with and play with and learn from. Rarely does one say (unless one is a misguided opportunist – and they are typically too clueless to realize they have “misguided opportunist” written on their forehead), “I’m sorry, you’re company only has $X million in revenues, so I find no redeeming quality in you as a human being and you have absolutely nothing to say that I could ever find of interest.”

Today, everyone can be a publisher, software developer, record producer, movie maker, etc. All you need is passion, authority (in the eyes of least one reader), talent, skill and a platform (a blog, a Flickr account, a del.icio.us feed of links). Get over the need to think everything you do has to be a blockbuster. Get over thinking that if you’re not Microsoft or Time Inc., you’re not a software developer or publisher that matters.

And here’s a secret I’ve learned: Big media company executives (and I’m sure it’s true in other industries, as well) know they’d be enjoying themselves a lot more if they were small and nimble and flexible and had the freedom to actually do what Erick says they need to do: create niche busters. They’re miserable because they can’t because niche busting is not rewarded by Wall Street analysts following quarterly earnings. Niche busting requires being able to handle lots of failures and sometimes being quick, and sometimes being very, very, very patient while an audience catches up with you.

We’re all publishers. And that changes everything. And that’s a good thing. It’s been that way for a long time, however. People are just now realizing it.

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