Speakers on a panel of industry leaders at Friday’s annual meeting of the Book Industry Study Group agreed that the publishing industry is in for much more change. “I expect there to be more dramatic, disruptive change ahead,” said Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah. Tom Turvey, director of strategic partnerships for Google, said he believes the industry “is not close to what it will look like five years from now.”
But Turvey said that with the right adjustments, publishers are in a good position to take advantage of the opportunities that change will bring. Publishers need to hire less business people “and hire more people like we hire,” he said, noting that publishers need to bring into their organizations people who understand where technology is going. Publishers on the panel said they have all made extensive changes to their staff with Raccah noting that there is not one job at her company that hasn’t been touched by digital. Maureen McMahon, president and publisher of Kaplan Publishing, said the one characteristic that her company’s always screens applicants for now is whether they can “learn and teach.”
Hachette Book Group president Ken Michaels said the industry needs leaders who understand technology, and are willing to not be tied to one platform. The industry is now “content-centric, not format-centric,” Michaels said. He said Hachette has hired engineers and people with new skill sets and that much of Hachette operates has been changed and more is coming. Publicity and marketing, Michaels noted, need to work closer together with better “scorecards” to see how promotion is serving their authors. “We need to brand our authors to get the widest possible reach,” he said.
All panelists said overseas markets represents a growth opportunity, but there are challenges. Turvey, back recently from helping to open Google digital stores in Japan and Korea, said the U.S. is many years ahead of most other countries in terms of digital. The three areas that need to be addressed before international markets can be successful exploited, Turvey said, are rights, standards and data. He noted that while the U.S. has made good progress on those fronts (though more is needed) most other countries lack any type of digital infrastructure. In terms of standards, he said outside of the U.S. “it’s like the wild west.” Raccah said while she was excited about the opportunities abroad, things like translating meta data need to be addressed.
All panelists also agreed that consumers are now faced with a glut of content and that discoverability remains a challenge. To help a book stand out in the digital space means things like covers remain important, Michaels said adding that means that digital covers “need to be rendered correctly.” Raccah advocating doing more research about what customers want before starting a project.