Is Netflix a friend or foe to the book business? That question was addressed by the Global 50 CEO Talk 2019 held Wednesday at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which featured a conversation with Kelly Luegenbiehl, v-p of international originals at Netflix, publishing consultant Rüediger Wischenbart, and the editors of global trade journals, including Bookdao form China, Buchreport from Germany, Livres Hebdo from France, PublishNews from Brazil and Publishers Weekly.
“If the Frankfurt community is a family, then we are welcoming a new family member,” said Wischenbart, who opened the conversation by asking Luegenbiehl to define Netflix. “It is a streaming services endeavoring to bring great stories to people around the world and remove all barriers,” she said, noting that on Tuesday the company had just announced plans to adapt a trio of books, including Frederik Backman’s Anxious People in Sweden, Elif Shafak’s 40 Rules of Love in Turkey, and Daniel Kelhmann’s Tyll in Germany.
Netflix, Wischenbart pointed out, spends in excess of $10 billion on content development every year, compared with the global revenue of Penguin Random House, which comes in at approximately $3 billion to $4 billion a year.
“We look at the publishers and editors as partners, that is the best word. For us, the more collaboration the better. ” She emphasized that the company is not a competitor to the book business. “Our goal is to bring books to life on the screen and to life in a way it has not been done before.”
She noted that the company is driven by audience demands. “We look at our job as a great responsibility. When a subscriber signs up for our service, they ask us to make great choices for them on their behalf as to what we produce and make available to them.” She emphasized that the decisions about content were based on classic storytelling, and not data or analytics. “There are universals to storytelling that supersede any genre: great stories with great characters. You have to want to invite these characters into your home episode after episode. There is still a lot of art to what we do,” she said.
For her part Luegenbiehl says she is passionate to find more stories that feature strong roles for women done by women creators.
Asked what has surprised her in her role, Luegenbiehl replied “What is exciting is just how quickly audiences have found content to enjoy from outside their own countries and languages. The great opportunity of what I do at Netflix is bring local stories to a global audience in a way that has never been done before. For us, when a series is released all around the world, in a wide variety of languages, on the same day, that is a really exciting moment for us.”
As for what is next for Netflix and what is it looking at Frankfurt, Luegenbiehl gave a clue. “We’re looking to develop our first series from sub-Saharan Africa and would love that to come from a book,” she said.