TheMediaBriefing Book Club: 10 books every media professional should read

Posted on February 19, 2013



We’re aware that we can’t cover every facet of the media business in exhaustive detail, but we can point you in the direction of the long-reads that comprehensively examine the issues we are all grappling with. Here are ten books suggested by our readers and TheMediaBriefing team we hope will enhance your understanding of what is going on in the media today.

We can’t cover every facet of the media business in exhaustive detail on this site, but we can point you in the direction of some long-reads that will give you a fresh perspective on this unpredictable industry.

Here are ten books suggested by our readers and TheMediaBriefing team that we hope will enhance your understanding of what is going on in the media today. Don’t leave it at that though – what did we miss? Tell us on Twitter, using the hashtag #mediabooks, leave us a comment below or email me.
1. Adapt, Tim Harford – suggested by Mike Goldsmith, digital editions editor-in-chief, Future Publishing

Mike says: “Some popular economics books lull me in with a cool cover or quote but I’m usually dozing after Chapter Three. Harford’s skill is choosing fascinating case studies plus a writing style that’s obviously expert yet always accessible.

“Adapt is about how ‘the big idea’ just doesn’t work for business in 2013 – that you must be prepared to adapt, evolve, innovate and improvise your way to success with trial and error. Unbelievably relevant to digital publishing, the perfect present for any editor who’s been asked ‘What’s the next Loaded?’ plus a killer opening chapter about toasters.”

2. Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow, Daniel Kahneman – suggested by Patrick Smith, editor and chief analyst, TheMediaBriefing (via Alex Watson)

Patrick: “While not a media book per se, this is an outstanding analysis of thought processes and decision-making. Page after page describes how conscious and unconscious biases unwittingly influence our decisions, in business as well as personal lives.

“Kahneman’s theory of there being two kinds of thought – the fast and impulsive versus the considered and deliberate – yields important lessons for journalism, product design, commercial and management teams. Read this and you too will be challenging colleagues with: “Are we answering an easier question rather than the most important one facing us?”

Here’s a video cartoon explaining many of the thought problems in Kahneman’s book:


3. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain, recommended by Tony Hallet, former CBS Interactive business publishing director and director at Collective Content.

Tony: “This is a good read for anyone with an interest in introvert/extrovert/Myers-Briggs and the like, but it’s especially interesting for those in media.

“There are extrovert journalists and there are some (I’ve met one!) introvert sales people – but the book is a great way to explain people’s motivations in roles and how they work best. Simple things are explored like who works well in an open-plan office and who needs their own nook or time.

“Not that many introverts haven’t done well in the past, often faking extrovert behaviours (from Darwin to Gates) but Quiet also paints an interesting picture of the future belonging more to introverts – writers, thinkers, techies, the Chinese (at least culturally).”

4. The Banned List, John Rentoul – suggested by Patrick Smith

Patrick: “Good editing is the enemy of cliché and jargon. Nothing the digital revolution has done to journalism changes this and The Independent on Sunday’s John Rentoul has written a handy guide to fighting the good fight.

“Adapting his occasional pieces for and Twitter missives into a handy book, editors can now quickly reference classic and modern clichés with ease before mercilessly re-writing their journalists’ stories, guilt-free. As John would implore you not to say, it is a “no-brainer”.

5. The Victorian Internet, Tom Standage, suggested by Adrian Barrick, chief content officer, UBM

Adrian offered up a trio of books that offer an insight into the changes being wrought on the media by the internet by looking at technological leaps of the last 200 years that had similarly transformative effects on society. However, asked to choose between them, Barrick picked this book on the history of the telegraph.

As he describes it describes it: “The Victorian Internet reminds us that even something as seemingly revolutionary as our current digital age is, conceptually at least, nothing new in many ways.

“What’s particularly fascinating is how the reactions to that change are so similar to those of people today.”

6Creative Disruption, Simon Waldman – suggested by Jasper Jackson, Journalist and analyst, TheMediaBriefing

Jasper: “Waldman spent much of the first decade of the 21st century in digital leadership roles at The Guardian, giving him a better view than most of the impact the internet has had on traditional media businesses.

“There’s no sentimentality as Waldman addresses the “OMG the Internet ate my business model” hysteria by picking apart the mechanics of technological disruption.

“He draws lessons from the transformation of businesses like HMV and WPP as they adapted to new ways of interacting with consumers, and the failure of firms like Blockbuster to understand how fundamentally their markets were changing.

“Waldman’s most impressive skill is providing practical advice on what to do to give your business a chance in the digital age all supported by evidence and case studies to back up his conclusions.”

7. The Innovators Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen – suggested by Paul Hood, digital director, Archant London.

Paul picked this book on how good business practices can weaken a firm and customers can reject new innovations that may eventually prove the key to a successful business.

Paul: “This has helped keep me sane by giving me a wider perspective when progress feels difficult/impossible. Recommended reading for anyone who is trying hard to make a difference through driving change.”

8. Flat Earth News, Nick Davies – suggested by Neil Charles, business science director at MediaCom North

Neil: “Despite the sensationalist description that you can see on the book cover, conspiracy theories about global news agendas, run by powerful individuals, are quickly rejected in favour of a much more interesting argument about what happens when you try to create large volumes of content at high-speed and low-cost.

“Davies isn’t relentlessly negative – pointing to some stunning examples of investigative journalism – but overall paints a clear picture of a product declining in quality and perhaps hints at some of the reasons for falling newspaper circulations.

“Even (or especially) if you feel that you are already aware of recycled PR pieces and factually incorrect information in the UK media, try the book. Its original research certainly surprised me with the scale of these issues.”

9. How To Get Rich, Felix Dennis – suggested by Rory Brown, chief marketing officer and co-founder, Briefing Media

Rory: “How To Get Rich is billed as an ‘anti-management’ book. Felix recounts his experiences building one of the most successful media businesses and passes on the tips he has picked up along the way.

“Felix’s style is brilliant for any existing (or aspiring) entrepreneur. The fact that he has done it in the media space makes it even more engaging.”

10. Starving to Death on $200 million, by James Ledbetter — suggester by Andy Ooakes, TheMediaBriefing associate director

Andy: “In 1998 I was working at Informa in the mobile division getting an up close look at how the dotcom boom was making people very rich. There seemed no end to the VC funding, the lavish marketing of products and services that hadn’t actually launched yet, the parties etc.

“We thought we were pretty cool. And then The Industry Standard began publishing in April 1998 and grew explosively. It was the magazine we all wanted to work for and at the time was lauded as one of the most successful magazine launches ever. It even had one of those new fangled website things.

“It took in $300 million in its first 20 months. In 2000 it sold more pages of advertising than any other magazine in the US. It couldn’t fail. Except it did. Rather spectacularly.

“James Ledbetter, the magazine’s European bureau chief, explains how it all happened in a terrific inside account of the Internet boom and the subsequent bust.

“The Standard was positioned exactly at the intersection of technology, media business and finance – pretty much where we at are now. Theres another link too, as the head of the UK Operation at the time was our very own Neil Thackray.

“It’s very easy to laugh at the lavish parties, the uncontrolled spending and the following nasty dose of reality as the tech crash hit, but it’s a salient reminder to many companies today that media and tech brands alike need to be built on solid ground and that you probably need your journalists to actually know what they are talking about.”

@psmith Creative Disruption, S Waldman: How to be Rich, Felix Dennis; Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky; The Innovator’s Dilemma #mediabooks

— Rory Brown (@RoryBrown) February 13, 2013

@psmith Everything is Miscellaneous by Dave Weinberger #mediabooks
— Adam Tinworth (@adders) February 13, 2013

@psmith You Can’t Read This Book by Nick Cohen is worth a read.

— Zach Peterson (@zachprague) February 13, 2013

@psmith Harold Evans’s. series for the British Board if Training. Journalists. Dated now but gems throughout.
— Paul Wiggins (@paulwiggins) February 13, 2013

RT @cliff: @psmith Power Without Responsibility by James Curran –> nice one, thanks Cliff #mediabooks

— Patrick Smith (@psmith) February 13, 2013

@psmith The series cut to the chase on best practice without using that MBA term. I’m a journeyman.

— Paul Wiggins (@paulwiggins) February 13, 2013

Image via Flickr curtousey of zimpenfish.