Give Customers What They Want?
Lessons from Steve Jobs, part 2
As I wrote in Monday’s post, I found Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs to be full of insights about life and business — not all of them revolutionary, but presented in such a way as to have maximum impact. I found myself asking how or if each of Jobs’s philosophies could be applied to publishing.
One of my favorite quotes from Jobs is this:
“Some people say, give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”
I think Apple has been terrific at living out this philosophy. None of us knew we wanted an iPod or an iPad before they existed. We wouldn’t have known to ask for them!
I think a logical corollary would be: You can’t keep giving customers what you gave them in the past.
And this is the secret to keeping books and reading alive in the 21st century. Don’t be afraid to offer something new!
While it’s easy to criticize the industry for continually offering “more of the same,” it’s not the whole truth. There will always be a glut of the same-old-same-old, but at the same time, we’re always seeing something new. Somebody had to be the first to write a big, contemporary romantic vampire series. Somebody had to imagine Hogwart’s. Somebody had to envision the entire book of Revelation (from the Bible) as a multi-episode thriller series.
And readers weren’t clamoring for these books—until the books were put in front of them.
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” ~Steve Jobs
It’s something for each of us to keep in mind, whether you are a publisher, an agent, or a writer. Rather than try to find out what people think they want, come up with something new to give them. Something so great, they can’t help but want it.
Writers always ask me: What’s trending now? Is there a certain genre I should write for a better chance of selling? I don’t enjoy that question because I’d rather see writers dig deep inside themselves, find something unique and truly theirs, and then offer it up.
Let’s not always try to give our readers what they want. Let’s create new things, and give people an opportunity to want something they’ve never even thought of before.
Do you think it’s realistic to think this way in today’s publishing environment? Which is better—the safe route of giving people what they already want, or stepping out to create something new and hope they’ll want it?
“People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” True in publishing? Click to Tweet.
You can’t keep giving customers what you gave them in the past- or can you? Click to Tweet.
Rather than try to find what people want, come up with something new. Click to Tweet.