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Lean Publishing and Lean Solutions

Jim Womack
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Normally I walk through other people’s industries. But today let me take a brief walk through my own: publishing. You don’t have to walk far to discover some amazing things:

  • It takes traditional publishers up to three months to “stuff the channel” with a new book, through multiple levels of warehousing at the printer, the publisher, the book wholesaler, and the book retailer. The entire process, with piles of inventory everywhere, is hardly lean.
  • Much worse, because of the “push” nature of printing in large batches and filling a long channel, publishers often print the wrong amount of books at the wrong time and send them to the wrong places. Indeed, about half the books printed in the U.S. each year are never sold through standard channels. They are either “remaindered” in secondary, deep-discount channels like Costco or -- and this is hard for authors to even think about -- shredded unread. At the same time, many retailers experience chronic “out of stocks” requiring special orders or resulting in lost sales. This is truly the opposite of lean.

By contrast, when we walk through the entirely different process we have developed to get LEI publications to readers, we find something very different: We print LEI books ourselves -- our workbooks and the recently launched lean novel, The Gold Mine -- and in small amounts. We store a small stock in a tiny warehouse. And we sell books directly for immediate delivery to customers who place orders over the web at www.lean.org and www.leanuk.org. (As technology advances, surely we will be able to print only on demand or let readers print their own copies. This is the lean ideal but the cost and print quality aren’t right yet.)

As we approached the publication of our new book, Lean Solutions, Dan Jones and I looked hard at publishing through LEI. But in the end we didn’t. Why? Because we only could reach those, like you, who are already members of the Lean Community. Without e-tailers like Amazon and bricks-and-mortar booksellers like Barnes & Noble -- who sell books to business readers with little knowledge of lean and to general readers looking for new ideas -- we couldn’t reach the broader market we must capture if we are going to draw more and more people into the Lean Community.

Given this reality, we decided to take the conventional publishing route for Lean Solutions. But at the same time we wanted to create a way to get our books to the Lean Community rapidly with minimum hassle for readers and with a personal touch.

We therefore arranged with our publisher to obtain the first printed copies of Lean Solutions and to make them available exclusively through LEI and Dan’s Lean Enterprise Academy, serving North America and Europe respectively. Starting today, I’m also signing each copy you obtain at www.lean.org. (If you like to try before you buy, and I certainly do, you can read the Preface, Introduction, and first two chapters Lean Solutions in the Library section of the LEI web site.

If you go today to the logical alternative -- Amazon -- you will note three things. The book is not yet available and only will ship at some uncertain future date. It’s not autographed. And…when the book does ship, it will cost less than it does at www.lean.org or at www.leanuk.org.

So you have a choice. (Which is always a good thing.) You can get the book now at list price. You also get a personal touch and you support the activities of the Lean Enterprise Institute. Or you can get the book later at a discounted price and support Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

As you consider these options, please remember that LEI is a nonprofit organized to promote the interests of the Lean Community. We have no stock holders and are creating no equity value for anyone who works here. We use the returns from existing products -- books, workshops and events -- to fund the next book or the next initiative. For example, LEI has just agreed to financially assist the start up of the new Lean Education Academic Network (LEAN, of course) that we have helped initiate. (More on LEAN in a future letter.) This is strictly a contribution to the Community, with no expectation of generating revenues to offset the costs. We need some way to fund this and similar initiatives, and margins on our products are the only answer.

So the choice is yours. Either way, Dan and I hope you will enjoy Lean Solutions, which is the biggest leap in our thinking since the Machine That Changed the World in 1990.

Best regards,


Jim Womack
President and Founder
Lean Enterprise Institute

P.S. Dan and I will be explaining the concept of lean solutions -- with presentations from the firms making the first breakthroughs in lean consumption and lean provision -- at Dan’s Frontiers of Lean Summit in Stratford-upon-Avon in the United Kingdom, October 31-November 2. It’s an exciting program, with real takeaways for managers and for business strategists, and we hope to see many members of the Lean Community there. Please go to www.leanuk.org for details and to register.

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