Tag Archives: New York Public Library

Time Will Tell

Using technology as a platform—not the reason—for change in the publishing industry.Illustration of the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village

At the intersection of relevance and obsolescence is the ability to recognize opportunities for change based on shifting consumer behavior and the subtle coalescence between emerging and disruptive technology.
-Brian Solis  [1]

The book publishing industry is in a state of transition, and there appears to be two polar differences in perception about what this change means for the industry. On one side, there are pronouncements that book publishing as it is known today is on a path to obsolescence, the only option being to delay the decline for as long as possible. However, there are others in publishing who state that the industry must be completely remade to survive in the long term. Those advocating for fundamental transformation will often refer to new technology development and application as the reason to disrupt the status quo.

My own opinions about the future of publishing were greatly influenced by a recent trip to New York City. Traveling by foot down Sixth Avenue, I discovered the historic Greenwich Village. While I stood at the stoplight waiting to cross 12th Street, my eyes looked up to see a beautiful building that appeared to be a church.  After doing some research later that week, I was surprised to learn that this building was operating as a public library. Even more unexpected, the structure originally served as a courthouse after the initial construction was completed in 1877. Now called the Jefferson Market Library, the building was almost torn down in the late 1950s after sitting vacant, no longer in use as a courthouse. It took the advocacy and support of some influential and concerned residents to save the historical landmark by converting it to a library. [2]

I believe the evolution of the Jefferson Market Courthouse to the Jefferson Market Library serves as a wonderful example of modernization without sacrificing the historically significant. This example of preserving a historical foundation while embracing progress acts as a powerful metaphor for the book publishing industry. I was again reminded of the future of publishing when reading Brian Solis’ new book, What’s the Future of Business? in which technology is not described as a “catalysts for change, but merely among its agents.” Emerging and disruptive technologies are not the reason to transform book publishing. They are a platform for the industry’s evolution.[1]

1. Solis, Brian. What’s the Future of Business? (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, 2013), 150
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website – NYPL.org

The Ground Worth Struggling For

Finding that key competitive position: a great lesson for the innovative leader from Sun-tzu’s The Art of War.City of New York Public Library Lion

When the ground
Offers advantage
To either side,
That is
Strategic ground.
– Sun-tzu  [1]

A few hours before my train back to Boston departed from New York’s Penn Station, I stopped by the public library for the chance to reflect at the end of a demanding business trip. There was a strong pull for me to the familiar lions who guard the entrance to New York Public Library Schwarzman building now and for the past 100 years. [2] These silent guardians sat as reminders of one my favorite thinking places in Boston, the public library that also has lions (please see A Storied History), lying couchant, protecting the thoughtful.

This trip to New York is one of the many I will have to make in my work to try and develop a business around innovation in the book publishing space. My work for an early stage startup provides the privilege of seeing raw innovation morph into something valuable to the world– this is the intersection where scientific experiment meets practicality during the evolution of a business.

I sat there quietly in the library’s grand reading room making follow-up notes about the potential strategic partners and customers I had met on the trip. During this time a realization began to form about strategy based on a lesson from Sun-tzu regarding the different types of ground in which to do battle in The Art of War. Sun-tzu’s instruction tells us that strategic ground is “[l]eternally, ground worth struggling for…” as translated by John Minford. That being said, it has been my great surprise as an entrepreneur how challenging the act of identifying a key strategic position can be that is both advantageous and accessible for a developing business. Accordingly, it is my belief that great entrepreneurs are effective because they have the capacity to abstain from seemingly strategic opportunities that are not yet accessible to a new business.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.

1. Sun-tzu (Sunzi); translated with an introduction and commentary by John Minford. The Art of War (New York: Penguin Group, 2009), 268.
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website – NYPL.org