Navigating the modern business of book publishing

Random House opens its doors in New York

Random House Corporate Logo

Opening its doors – Random House

Digital Bookworld reported the news yesterday the Random House in New York was going to open its doors to the general public on Nov 2 as part of its ongoing campaign to grow the publisher’s brand outside of the trade. It follows the release of a series of videos by Random House that give insight into their business and publishing processes (see one of the videos embedded below). It’s an interesting move by Random House and shows that they are considering new ways to relate not only to the reading public, but also to authors and book industry “influencers” such as bloggers.

Below is my (adapted) reply to a comment from author, publisher and book industry commentator Bob Mayer, who questioned the rationale of Random House, saying:

How are publishers closer to consumers? Does the consumer even care who published the book? The consumer cares about the quality of the writing, the actual product, which is a STORY not a book. The story can be consumed in a print book, an eBook, an audiobook.

My Reply:

While I agree that (for the most part) consumers don’t care who published the book, I think that the relationship between publishers and consumers is certainly changing. There are in fact some very real examples of publishers getting much closer to consumers:

Hay House I Can Do It Seminar

Hay House connects directly with its readers through Author events and seminars

Hay House, the Mind Body Spirit niche publisher, runs a large number author events and festivals around the world in which it sells a huge number of books direct to consumers. And I can assure you that in the MBS space, the brand Hay House is now well recognised by readers and is seen as a positive assertion of quality. The literary festival aspect of the Random House open house has some similarities to this, although on a much more modest scale, and with a third party bookseller.

Here in Australia, Pearson has recently bought the online retail arms of the now defunct Borders and Angus & Robertson chains. While Pearson is not using their publishing branding on the site (bookworld.com.au), this is still one of the strongest moves by a major publisher anywhere in the world to secure a direct-to-consumer retail channel and is obviously being watched very closely.

Swimming Home - Deborah Levy

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
– And Other Stories

And then there’s the rise of new publishing business models such as “And Other Stories”, the new UK publisher that has jumped out of the blocks with a Booker Short Listed novel in only its second year of existence. And Other Stories employs a subscription model to finance its publications whereby its primary customers pay for their book in advance. They receive the books direct from the publisher before they are available to the general trade. Not only this, but subscribers are also invited to take part in the book acquisition process itself, bringing the relationship between publisher and consumer even closer.

Given that many publishers are rethinking their relationships with consumers, I’m not surprised to see Random House attempt to extend their brand to a wider audience. Having said all of that, I don’t believe these moves by Random House are totally focused at the end consumer. The video and the open house seem far more geared at two other groups that have always been extremely important to publishers: writers and “influencers”.

It’s pretty obvious why Random House would be trying to promote their in-house processes to writers – they need to demonstrate their value proposition to potential authors who may be considering self-publishing. The video was clearly produced with this in mind and it seems reasonable to assume that a number of the general public tickets to the open house will also be picked up by aspiring writers.

The Random House open house also provides a perfect opportunity to schmooze the “book bloggers and book-club coordinators” and other influencers. There’s nothing new about publishers reaching out to influential reviewers in newspapers, radio and television in the hope that their books may be more favourably represented. Now that there’s been a significant shift in book conversations towards online channels, publishers need to foster personal connections with this new generation of influencers.

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Categorised in: All Posts, Publishing News

1 Response »

  1. Hey Steve. Nice of you to drop in.

    Yep the Penguin Classics is probably the best known publisher-branded product out there. Classics are a bit different though – because any publisher can release books that our out of copyright the author brand provides no competitive advantage. So the publishers use their own brand to promote their range of classics, competing on price point, cover design, format, additional material and, of course, title selection.

    A publisher’s classics range can certainly be used to enhance the publisher’s brand and give it literary credibility but this branding still tends to have limited crossover to their new releases. The penguin classic range has definitely been the most successful at this and, while readers may not pay actively follow the Penguin new releases, the Penguin logo on the spine of the book is recognised widely enough that it provides some guarantee of quality in the mind of the reader.

    Perhaps more importantly for Penguin, it helps ensure that it is one of the most sought after publishers for aspiring authors, giving it premium access to new talent and stronger position to bargain from on contracts and rights deals.

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About Richard

Richard Bilkey has been selling, marketing and distributing books for over ten years, managing independent bookshops, a major online retailer and, most recently, one of Australia's largest Independent Book Distributors, Brumby Books.

Contact Richard directly at richard@fictionetal.com.au
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