I had dinner last night with an old friend, Lester Brown, who founded the Worldwatch Institute and more recently started a new organization, the Earth Policy Institute (EPI).
I knew I would get some ideas for our sustainability project, but I hadnâ€™t realized that Les would make me consider a new approach to our publishing and distribution. He has published some 30 books with W. W. Norton, the most recent being Plan B 2.0, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. Thatâ€™s a new edition of the 2003 Plan B, and heâ€™s just been to China to promote it and to receive the equivalent of the Chinese National Book Award.
Hereâ€™s the publishing innovation: Norton provides EPI with copies as they want at a very low price, and Earth Policy sells the book on its website in substantial numbers. EPI also offers the book, in chapters, free downloading. Get that? Free downloads of a book that EPI is selling at list price and that Norton is selling through all the usual channels.
This is Web 2.0 thinking. Les says itâ€™s very successful. They sell a lot of books, Norton does nicely, and the work theyâ€™re doing is far more widely and globally distributed than it would ever be otherwise.
Is there a lesson here for Berkshire Publishing?