In July 2011, when Harvard Business School changed the name of its book publishing operation to Harvard Business Review Press to match its strongest brand, the Harvard Business Review magazine, it wasn’t clear what kind of impact it might have. As Jack Covert, founder of CEOread, points out, “the name really isn’t as important as the quality of their product. The difference between HBRP and HBSP [Harvard Business School Press] in the consumer’s mind... is negligible.” However, by putting HBRP, the magazine, and the HBR.org Web site together under the same umbrella—the Harvard Business Review Group—Harvard Business has fostered a different way of working together that has helped revitalize its book publishing program. Magazine editors sign writers for books, and book editors have more leeway to work with authors to create magazine pieces and blogs.
Closer cooperation between the magazine and the press is starting to pay off. Last fall the press introduced HBR Singles, short, digital works that fall somewhere between a magazine article and a book in length. The first one, Heidi Halvorson’s Nine Things Successful People Do Differently, is based on her eponymous blog on HBR.org, which has gotten more than 1.6 million page views since its launch in February 2011. “The strength of our publishing platforms allows us to create products faster from ideas that we know are resonating with our audience,” explained editorial director Tim Sullivan, who came to the press from Basic Books. The second, Umair Haque’s Betterness, which calls for a new economic paradigm, also published late last year, is based on a popular HBR blog with 100,000 followers. This year HBRP is planning to publish four Singles in addition to 35 print books.
For Sarah McConville, publisher of HBRP and v-p of marketing for the group, the reorganization promotes synergy. “We’re doing this quite a lot now,” she said, referring to Halvorson’s Single, “seeing how it performs on the blog first. We’re also testing types of content. We’re looking at Singles as a place to experiment.” But not the only place. Management Tips: From Harvard Business Review, which grew out of 50-word tips for managers on the HBR.org site, was released last fall as an $18 hardcover gift book for the holidays. HBRP plans to repromote it again this spring for dads and grads.
The press has also brought some of its books more in line with the visual look of HBR. That’s particularly evident in its HBR’s 10 Must Reads series, which collects 10 articles per book on key business areas like leadership, strategy, and change. The books, all paperback originals, have high production values, including French flaps. The press also launched a complementary group of oversized paperback HBR Guides in 2010 for professionals looking for skills tips, from getting a job to managing stress. The first eight have sold more than 60,000 copies on the HBR Web site alone.
These series, together with books that focus on skills like Joe Knight, Roger Thomas, and Brad Angus’s Project Management for Profit (June), form about 20% of the HBRP list. Another 60% are core titles on the practice of management, like last fall’s The Innovator’s DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregerson, and Clayton Christensen. Trade titles, or big ideas books, make up the remaining 20%.
To sell more books, the press is reaching out across the Atlantic by sharing a London office with Harvard University Press and adding an office in India. Earlier this year it also expanded its partnership with Perseus, which has long represented its books to the trade in the U.S. It not only signed with Perseus’s Constellation distribution service but also with it for international distribution. “For us, it was about making sure we could extend our relationships internationally and leverage technology without increasing our footprint,” said McConville.
In the U.S., last July, it began focusing on corporate sales by adding an in-house sales manager to work closely with authors and develop relationships with Fortune 500 companies already interested in many of the topics in HBR. It is also actively promoting its titles in airports frequented by business travelers. “We love the Harvard Business Review Press and continue to promote it very significantly in our stores. It is a brand that resonates strongly with our customers. My instinct is that [rebranding] has had a positive impact,” said Sara Hinckley, v-p of book purchasing and promotion at Hudson Group.
However, the real test of the rebranded HBRP won’t come until next February, when the press launches Roger Martin’s Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, written with former Proctor & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley. “What gets me excited about it,” said Sullivan, “is it really hits our sweet spot: how do you get strategy to cascade through your company?” Although a print run hasn’t been set yet, McConville is expecting big things and has challenged the staff to get it on the New York Times bestsellers list the first week out. —Judith Rosen