The principles of Frugal Innovation were created in developing companies. Firms like Husk Power Systems were established to operate, in part, to serve communities with few resources. In developed countries, examples like ACX within Amazon.com illustrate how an unconventional approach like Frugal Innovation can be adapted to create opportunities and encourage innovation for clients and vendors who, though operating in rich nations, lack funding and capital. (Amazon.com itself is backstopping this work with its established company and, it appears, primarily is looking to open up a new profit stream, not to lift up impoverished writers and actors.)
Consider Entangled Publishing, a new publishing company that seems to be a response to market changes – and to resemble Frugal Innovation. In fact, it seems to be a talent cooperative that leverages the same Internet platforms that are putting the squeeze on traditional publishers.
A week doesn’t go by without news about an author who has moved to independent publishing and had success. Some of these are established writers who want to get a bigger piece of the profits, a bit more freedom, and/or make their backlist books available. They have the resources to invest in editors, cover artists, formatting wonks, and marketers to make themselves competitive with the major publishers.
Some jack-of-all-trade unpublished authors have been able to do it all themselves, and a small number of them have become rich. Most aspiring authors are somewhere in between, with severe limits on capabilities and funding. They have a difficult time making the most of readily available distribution platforms.
Enter Entangled. Their stated goal is “to bridge the gap between traditional and indie publishing, giving our authors the best of both worlds.” Essentially, they put together ad hoc teams that take on novels as projects. They have implemented an agency model, “which means everyone from the copy editor to the marketing director has a financial stake in your book.”
Let’s look at this in terms of the Frugal Innovation principles:
- Simplify – Strip it down to reduce cost, cut down on maintenance and enable the use of unskilled labor. – The labor is anything but unskilled, but the writers might not have the capabilities (or time) required to do all the work needed to go from manuscript to bestseller. The biggest point of simplification is the business model, which strips away complex approval processes to base decisions on a simple idea. Do I, as an editor (or publicist or cover artist) believe in this book enough to stake my income on its success?
- Use what’s local – In some areas, it is more efficient to have someone turning a crank than it is to automate. – For local, think Internet-connected. This is a publishing company where being in New York is less important than being able to contribute talent and skills virtually.
- Adapt skills, techniques and approaches creatively. – Most of the talented people do their tasks in much the same way as they would at a traditional publisher. But here, the platforms built for other purposes are the mainstay of Entangled’s publishing venture.
- Instead of getting enraptured by high tech, look to the minimum technology that is needed to serve the customer. – The publication software and platforms (for distribution, editing, and delivery to printers) are sophisticated, but broadly available. In fact, this model works in part because so much of the technology used is standardized and does not need to be customized.
- Make the poor your market – and don’t stop development until you find a way to price within their means. – Success is dependent upon competing successfully against big, traditional publishing, attracting talented writers with stories to tell. Writers with limited resources are Entangled’s market. Entangled’s “About Us” page is aimed at writers, not readers. It begins, promising, “At Entangled Publishing, we believe authors who write great books should receive a majority of the profits.”
How has this innovative venture done? Here’s what they say: “ We launched in 2011 and have since published 158 titles, including the 8th bestselling book of 2012, as well as the blockbuster YA Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, soon to be a major motion picture. With 11 titles on the USA Today Bestseller list and 9 on the NYT list, we’ve been true to our vision.”
Of course, Entangled’s success is not assured. They have a lot of competition, and some of their rivals are likely to cherry pick their model. But the principles of Frugal Innovation, adapted to a new market, are performing well in a firm built from the ground up with those approaches in mind.