From Gutenberg to Gates

The Transition of Wood Lake Publishing to the Digital Age

This case examines Wood Lake Publishing, a small, employee owned “ministry, undertaken through publishing” business. Established in 1980 in Winfield B.C., the firm’s $3.2 million revenue (2007) is derived from the sale of Church School curricula ($2M), books aimed at the Christian community ($.5M) and specialty publications.

In the early 1990’s Wood Lake’s management team recognized the potential of the internet as an effective way to reach its customers, providing them with an online catalogue of its products and the means to order them through a web based interface. At an early stage, they also recognized the potential to develop products that would be delivered on-line lowering the cost of production and enabling customers to build their own products. A primary driver of the decision to establish a web presence was the firm’s recognition of the decreasing success of its marketing efforts, largely print based and direct mail. With great expectations of becoming a “big, if not dominant presence in the religious part of the web”, management committed over $500,000 to developing a website.

This case explores the hazards of early adoption of new technology. Wood Lake encountered difficulty in moving too far ahead of its core customers who proved to be late adopters of web based communication. Wood Lake also discovered that by committing to the first generation of an innovation, they paid an early adopters premium for hardware and software. They also found themselves locked into technology that was quickly outmoded, making it difficult and expensive over time to stay abreast of competitors who were slower to adopt and thus made their initial investment in second and third generation software. As traditional publishing technologies (the creation of printed hard copies) appear increasingly likely to lose market dominance, Wood Lake faces the challenge of adapting to a changing market in an uncertain future. Its early entry into the World Wide Web may yet prove to have been critical for the firm, not as anticipated because it obtained a head start on its competition in the development of web delivery, but because it gained valuable experience in adapting to a rapidly changing array of new technologies for distributing information.

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