Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Last Post...

Well, after a break from posting on this site for some time, I have decided to move all my blogging activity to my new web site:


I have transferred all the posts from here and other locations under a single posts page.

There you can find a miscellany of writing associated with my real name David Atkinson and my pseudo name (for fiction writing) David Sartof.

I write at the cross-over between fiction and non fiction, across a number of subject areas, including management and leadership.

I look forward to your joining me at my new web site. Please do drop by!




Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Innovation: Publishing in the modern world! Post II

A short essay that stated as a single blog post!

The book is dead? Long live the book? Really! As I bring my first novel to market (I decided, with the impatience and petulance of spoilt teenager, that I was not going to wait for some kind Agent to introduce me to a Publisher – I’ve run a business before!), I thought I’d try a blog post on my take of the landscape before me. Or, at least that part of it that I can see, for the moment, through my limited field of vision. And one post became two! Haven’t read Post I yet?

A short essay in two posts… Post II – Long live the book…

The book is dead? Long live the book? Yes! Most definitely! Launching any new product into a market, and new novels are no exception, is a question of innovation. Put the hash-tag #innovation into Twitter and follow just how many people discuss this topic, and, importantly, what is being said.

Innovation is the word on the lips of politicians, businesses and consumers looking forward. And, the biggest tool in the innovator’s toolbox is the opportunity presented by technology as it continues its rampant charge down the battle fields of commerce. The battlefield that is Publishing bears the mark of technology’s stampede! And if we fight on that battlefield we must be mindful of the terrain.

A question of risk? Really? Of course it is. And what do we do about risk, as a budding novelist. Launching a new product into a market is an investment. It costs. It costs to produce a book. Not just in the time to write it, but in the post-writing production process. If launching a book is to be considered as a business (i.e. authors – as well as Agents and Publishers – need to put bread into their mouths) then what strategies are available to de-risk the enterprise?

Become a celebrity? Short of (accidentally?) launching one’s child, in a balloon, into the airspace over a major international airport, or entering some mindless get-rich-quick game show, genuine opportunities for gaining instant celebrity status are few and far between. Such a strategy is as useful to the budding author as is hope! And hope is no strategy!

In the risk-reward equation of a product launch, what is at stake is the investment in bringing that product to market. If the product is untried, untested – with an unknown pedigree, it is highly rational to consider only a limited investment at first. But here lies the difficulty faced by the budding new author! The investment required to produce such a seemingly small thing as a new paperback book – that can compete on cost and quality in the market of other paperback books – is out of all proportion to its size. That is, of course, unless a sufficiently large enough quantity can be produced, marketed and SOLD! This is an economic fact of life! It should not be a surprise to any new, budding author – the economics of starting a writing career just do not add up!

…Unless, of course, you decide to enter the battle!! And this is the point of my blog and my mention of Smashwords.

The stampede of technology has done one critical thing – it has lowered the cost of production of the book! And I am not talking, here, about the capability of digital, print-on-demand, or the use of software to layout and design books at home. No, the biggest single factor in levelling the battlefield – in reducing the costs of production – which is the real boon to the individual budding new novelist, is that technology has redefined what a book is! Long live the (E)book!

So, lest I be accused of varying from the theme, or at least diverting from the suggestion that I might have something to say about Smashwords… back to focus! Any budding new author that does not consider the opportunity to reduce the level of investment in book production that is represented by the e-book, is missing the point.

As I launch my own first novel, RIVER OF JUDGEMENT, on Smashwords, I am thankful that evolution is our constant companion. As our society becomes increasingly risk averse, as investment in capital-intensive product launches (as a book most certainly is) becomes reserved for “sure-fire” bets (celebrity) and sexy, high-tech panaceas (which a book most certainly is not), evolution provides its own solution. We adapt and survive.

The low cost of producing an e-book (you can publish it for free on sites like Smashwords) now, at last, provides a new author with the economic possibility to launch a new product into a real market place that has the potential to generate income and put a few crumbs on the table. It is an opportunity not to be missed, especially if you consider the “interconnectedness of things” these days!

Smashwords has formed a business alliance with Barnes & Noble. If you take care in the production of an e-book – in business you need to deliver a quality product after all – Smashwords will offer its inclusion in their Premium Catalogue, and thus its availability to B&N. The books of budding new authors can exist alongside those of the established greats, and on the same terms!! No vanity press exits in cyberspace – just good quality and bad quality. Democracy rules, perhaps! So, publish and be damned! Go on, give it a try!

Innovation: Publishing in the modern world! Post I

A short essay that stated as a single blog post!

The book is dead? Long live the book? Really! As I bring my first novel to market (I decided, with the impatience and petulance of spoilt teenager, that I was not going to wait for some kind Agent to introduce me to a Publisher – I’ve run a business before!), I thought I’d try a blog post on my take of the landscape before me. Or, at least that part of it that I can see, for the moment, through my limited field of vision. And one post became two!

A short essay in two posts. Post I – The book is dead…

As a writer (yes I can say that – despite my relative inexperience; I have published!), I am a player in a changing landscape. Not that other landscapes are not changing, and not that I don’t play in other changing landscapes – business, for example, is a constantly changing landscape, forged by countless battles of profit versus social and individual need; but that is a theme for another post.

Back to innovation and writing…

Smashwords is one of the growing number of e-book sites: a battlefield in which the (bloodless?) war over the democratisation of publishing is being fought. Is the battlefield being levelled? Is the author dying – lying wounded on the field? Long live the author, really?

Where can the budding new author get an opportunity to publish their work if the likes of Martine McCutcheon can capitalise on the limited time and energy of the industry’s great and good? It would seem that prior-celebrity is fast becoming a requirement on the CV of a budding novelist, purely on the basis that it is the celebrity-status that de-risks the commercial enterprise. And risk, to me, is what it is all about. When investment dollars (pounds for us Brits) are limited, the “established” prefer sure-fire bets (or sexy sounding techno-bubbles). In the publishing industry, celebrity offers that sure-fire bet. The use of “celebrity status” is a low-risk strategy designed to maximise the return on investment required to bring any new product to market.

For the celebrity author, even the relative bad publicity of the likes of Lynda La Plante's intervention at a recent award ceremony, which led to a wave of articles attacking celebrity authors generates an interest, and the exposure of a published work to its market, and to sales! There is a natural balance to the order of things. It is an almost Newtonian-principle that for every person that sides with the view that celebrity writers steal the bread from the mouths of “real” writers, there is a person who will think differently. Publicity is indiscriminate in its audience! The “established”, the great and the good are vindicated in their investment decisions.

I am not one to suggest that celebrity authors are taking bread from my mouth. If I had celebrity status, I would use it! So, how, as a “real” writer, do I join the fray?

Only entrepreneurs with a passion for a market are willing to take a bet on something that isn’t a sure-fire thing! How many entrepreneurial Agents and Publishers are there out there? A few – there are always the proverbial exceptions to any rule. But for the budding new novelist, finding the needle in the haystack is a time consuming, soul destroying journey of rejection after rejection after rejection. I know, I’ve tried it. (But not for too long!)

I look to the changing landscape of publishing as an opportunity. It is a battlefield. Business is, generally – despite all the words of corporate social responsibility and the rights of individuals. (In my other existence – as my blog posts may reveal, I write on management issues!) We are talking innovation! Innovation, Innovation, Innovation.

The book is not dead; the new author is not dying, lying mortally wounded in the field – shot in the first charge at the enemy. Read Post II, where I continue with an equally short rant on innovation.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

A short post on... SKiP(ing) into the future

Looking for a new acronym for innovation in a knowledge economy? Forget PEST, try SKiP(ing)…

I wrote, in an earlier post on Ragged Trousers, about the fact I had based that very post on an earlier essay entitled "SKiP(ing) Into a Futurist Economy". It was loosely based on a presentation I gave to some academic staff at Sheffield Hallam University earlier this year.

I have now made that essay available as a pdf file for download from my web site. You can read, in detail, some of my thoughts centred around innovation and, in particular, the concept of Open Innovation. In addition, I introduce SKiP as new acronym for relating to Innovation in Knowledge.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The end in sight...? A publishing journey... and some kind words!

Progress in reaching the publication of my first novel!

This week I launched my new author web site:!

David Sartof is my pen name, to keep my fiction writing separate from my non-fiction. And, there just seems to be so many David Atkinson's out there who write books! Who would credit it? Is the the DNA/Gene pool talking?

Still, for those interested, the book is introduced with a book trailer - an example of the growing trend of using the capabilities of new media and the Internet to advertise books! Take a look, either through the web site or direct on YouTube.

As I make the final preparations for the launch - towards the end of this year - I thought I would mark this stage in the publishing journey with some of the kind words from some other writers over at These writers have all commented having read the first few chapters of River of Judgement.

"I wasn't sure if I could get into something like this, but nevertheless wanted to give it a try anyway. Glad I did! This is a very strong project; all the aspects of drama, conflict, great dialogue, excellent plot, near-perfect writing--it's all here! Sometimes taking a risk does pay off..." Anne

"A timely book, this. ...I thought this is a crisp, fluent read - well-developed characters dealing with topical dilemmas." Jo

"This writing is excellent, high finance drama in the boardroom... I was a general manager for... 15 years so I can identify. Always plenty of conflict in the boardroom, great makings for a novel. ...You have a great story working here..." Steve

"...I like the story [to] take me on on a journey without me knowing where it's to. Your story does that for me... It's well written and excellent characterisation" Anthony

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Innovation: a game of Chinese Whispers?

Gateway to Investment (G2i) the London-based Investment Readiness Programme, have recently (1st July) issued a post relating to the UK Government's plan for a UK INNOVATION FUND .

The G2i post prompted me to consider the game of Chinese Whispers.

The essence of my observation, here, is the G2i post-writer's mention of an assumption made by Lord Drayson, the Science and Innovation minister. Apparently (according to the post), Lord Drayson has championed the need for such a UK INNOVATION FUND to put an end to the equity gap in the UK, based on the assumption that the fund will "...attract more investors, entrepreneurs and companies to the UK." Is this really a key objective of the fund? What does such an assumption say about the state of innovation in the UK? Are we really so devoid of our own innovative capacity, that we must now seek to import further capacity through making available public funds for "external entrepreneurs and investors" to profit from?


All may not be as it appears... Government aims for £1 billion venture capital fund to invest in the businesses of the future

The G2i post, I assume, was based on an earlier news release (issued by the Government's own COI); the "official" press release casts the UK INNOVATION FUND in a subtly different light. "The Prime Minister has today [29 June] announced the creation of the UK Innovation Investment Fund to invest in technology-based businesses with high growth potential. The new fund will focus on investing in growing small businesses, start-ups and spin-outs, in digital and life sciences, clean technology and advanced manufacturing." Significantly - to my mind - no mention is made of any assumption about the fund being used draw-in non-local/UK innovators or funding.

The fund, it appears, rather than being targeted at drawing in such external support to UK Innovation, as might be read in the G2i post, is perceived to be required to invest in key sectors, where (UK) support will be given to the UK's most promising start-ups and existing small companies.

Venture capital finance is frequently seen as the lifeblood of innovation; VC finance is crucial to realising the creative idea as an innovative product or service. Given the UK's investment in science and technology research, further investment is required - as put by Lord Drayson - to "...safeguard the Government's record..." in this area.

On the face of it then, if access to venture capital is one of the critical factors in developing innovative companies, products and services in the UK, then the promise of a UK Innovation Investment Fund could be seen as a welcome addition to the options faced by British Entrepreneurs. However, does it attack the real problem? Are there enough viable UK investment propositions, backed by viable UK-based management teams, for the venture capital funds already available in the UK market place?

Simply making more money available to invest will not address the fact that there has to be a supply of viable investment propositions available to invest in. An idea, stemming from some advanced research centre or other (commercial or academic), still needs the right team behind it. The so-called "equity gap" arises, in large part therefore, through the difficulty in finding the right people to manage right ideas through to fruition (i.e. production and delivery). Investment in a fund of funds: THE UK INNOVATION INVESTMENT FUND, will not address this very real concern.

And my observation? Of Chinese Whispers? Well, the G2i post was brought to my attention by Twitter: a valuable networking tool. In less than 140 characters I was treated to the headline: UK Innovation Plan - solution to the equity gap or doomed to fail? But, following the embedded link in the "tweet", the G2i post merely offered what, on the face of it, appeared to be an inaccurate re-post of a formal press release. No attempt had been made to suggest the rationale for the head-line: the problematic of the investment gap.

Given the proliferation of (inter)networking tools, there is a danger, in any re-posting of information, that the real message becomes so obscured by noise and inaccuracy, that any potential "knowledge transfer" fails; any potential debate is stifled; and the background noise that is the constant chatter and re-chatter of diluted, and ultimately meaningless, factoids and suppositions, increases - unchecked.

I like the G2i post; it draws attention to an interesting problematic in policy-driven attempts to address the UK's "equity gap". I think, however, that what would be useful in an opinion piece is more opinion and less whispered repetition.

Solution to the equity gap or doomed to fail?

And my opinion? Well, the UK INNOVATION INVESTMENT FUND will neither be a failure nor a total solution: just one more option added to the complex landscape of alternative initiatives that will ensure management of the UK innovation scene will remain a commercial challenge.

Monday, 6 April 2009

On innovation and ragged trousers… just a thought!

Robert Tressell described the “Great Money Trick” of capitalism, in his book “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, first published in 1914. This was admirably summarised by Gary Day, in his 1997 introduction to the Harper Perennial edition of the book – and I paraphrase slightly:

“There are those who own the means of production, and there are those who own nothing except their labour power, which they sell in order to survive. What the workers earn is always less than the value of what they produce. Hence the owners, by selling back to the workers what they produce, continue to increase their wealth while the condition of the workers progressively deteriorates.”

Now, heading towards 2014, and one hundred years on from the fictional, small bunch of painters and decorators sat around in the Cave, listening to Marxist philosophy, we may have cause to echo their sentiments.

There is a growing concern that, as a culture, we are not innovative enough: a lack of innovation is often proffered as a cause for low productivity. Increasingly then, a common innovation strategy involves companies seeing their customers, not merely as passive consumers of innovations, but rather as contributors to the innovation process itself. This is where the ideas and insights of consumers can provide the starting point for new directions, creating new markets, products and services. Take, for example, Lego, the Danish toy manufacturer. Lego set up the Lego Factory website. Here, users can design their own model online, and have the ready-to-assemble model sent to them. The site has given Lego an effective way to capture ideas from its customer base, which are then built into mainstream products, and (re)sold in quantity. In the extreme, is this a sustainable strategy?

I think, without a doubt, there is a place for this type of thinking and strategy, but as a basis for policy making to generally improve inclusive economic development, we could draw an interesting insight from those Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. And I will paraphrase again:

Taken to the extreme, “Lego owns the means of production… then there are others, their customers, who own nothing except their knowledge power, which, under open innovation, they no longer sell in order to survive – they give away in a globally networked, knowledge exchange process. What the knowledge workers now earn is far, far less than the value of their ideas. Hence Lego, by selling back to the knowledge workers innovations based on their own ideas, continue to increase Lego’s wealth while, relatively, the condition of the knowledge workers progressively deteriorates.”

Culture is about the people; and it is at the level of the people that creativity takes place. In the SME community of my own experience, the focus should be about people, not so much about process. There is a place for process of course, but in fostering innovation, and its root of creativity, knowledge workers should be engaged and encouraged to participate in a general, innovative culture. This will require principles better aligned to fair trade ideals, than some ideological notion of a global network for the free exchange of ideas.

I have based this post on a short essay. If there is any interest, I will consider making the full essay available.