Publishing Point interview with Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO, Simon & Schuster
March 23, 2011 | 5:14 pm
By Paul Biba
You can find out more about Publishing Point here.
Michael Healy: Director of the Google Book Rights Registry – interviewer
Carolyn Reidy: reaction to google book settlement: disappointed byt not too surprising. Hope that is just another way station along the way to a final settlement. Not “on the cusp” of a transformation, are in the middle of the transformation. The cusp was quite some time ago, but got to the middle faster then they thought. The ease of buying books and of selling books is exploding and are huge amount of opportunities facing us. Optimistic. Biggest question is whether we can enlarge the market for reading rather than keeping it steady. Traditional book-selling: been in business over 30 years and has always been something declining! So this is not that different, every change has developed opportunities. Danger that may be more shrinkage with mass marketers, Walmart, etc. if their sales don’t remain strong. Consumers discover books in a physical environment, even if they don’t buy them there. Haven’t figured out how to deal with this yet. Believe that will be more than one internet bookseller – Amazon doesn’t have an exclusive on ebooks any more. Will be a lot more competition on line – niche online booksellers, for example. Their job is to find these sellers, develop these sellers. Consumers don’t go away, but need to find out how to reach them through other channels. Biggest challenge is for publishers to prove they have a value to authors, not to become a B to C business. Have always been a B to C business – they always did this but now they are more directly involved.
Always known that word of mouth is the best way to sell books and have always found ways to increase this word of mouth and this is a B to C operation. Publishers have always done: editing to make the book the best it can be; marketing and finding the readers, this has been the major thing they do for authors; all the back end stuff; give them an advance so they can live while they write. Think that a lot of big authors have not gone to self-publishing because they want to write and not do all that other stuff. Publisher has never been the brand, the author is the brand and the publisher is the brand to the author. Many big authors just don’t want to deal with all the stuff that is a pain in the neck to do. All that stuff still has to be done and if not done by the publisher is done by the author. Imprints need to promote a stronger brand with consumers, but haven’t figured it out yet. Don’t believe consolidation is inevitable. It really depends on what the ultimate owners want to do, but is not necessary for the business itself. In online space every book is sort of equal. Wall Street doesn’t value publishing all that much so won’t be pressure from there to consolidate.
Digital transformed most things, but transformed editorial the least. All their books have digital marketing plan, has digital venues, digital advertising. Transformed the way jackets are designed and created, transformed production and publicity. Every single department has a digital component and been to some degree transformed. Digital used to be a separate department and about 3 years ago realized this didn’t work and moved it out into all their departments. I’ve needed to learn a lot. Biggest change for me is trying to figure out, as ebook world grows, what to do with the balance with ebook and pbook, especially as physical sales decline. What does this mean financially, from the publishing standpoint (how many e and how many p should be published and what is the mix). Organization is probably more nimble than you would think because not trying to move the whole company, but trying to move individual departments. Learned that when trying to change it takes 3 tries before you get it right. If had to start a company now would concentrate on the systems because the hardest thing to do is to change these old systems and do it right. Very expensive, more so than the people costs. Author cost is biggest cost, followed by the mechanical costs.
We don’t yet sell ebooks to libraries because haven’t found a business model that they are happy with. Reads a lot of manuscripts digitally, prefers an iPad to the Kindle cause of the ergonomics. Don’t have a real preference between reading p and digital books. We are actually changing, forming and making the industry. Believes new forms of the book will be developed. Exciting time to be in publishing because are creating a whole new industry.
Ebooks are now 15 – 20 % of units – hard to say so early in year and B&N had some reporting problems. Don’t have the percentage in dollars. Expects that sales will about 20% and in 5 years will be 50% and could be higher. In first weeks of any book sales are almost always 50% ebooks. Used to be that fiction was always higher than non-fiction and now fiction has less of a lead. In first weeks sometimes reach 60% ebook in first weeks if book has a lot of reviews. Enhanced ebook market is not very strong and some of the biggest sellers have still been less than 2,000 copies. Still experimenting doesn’t appear that public is enthused by the concept. Don’t do any apps any more because are very expensive to make and get lost in the App Store, don’t know how to get them recognized in the mass of stuff in the store. Can’t put apps into the bookstore which makes it harder for them to be found. Don’t think print books will be obsolete. Think they may become more valuable cause an “elite” market will develop. POD will become more ubiquitous.
Don’t generally talk about royalty rates in public, but authors don’t generally make less money on ebooks when look across all formats. Physical book has a definite life and ebook doesn’t and this has to be taken into account. International sales is a huge upside for publishers and authors because can move them all over the world. As this market evolves their royalty rates will have to change as well. Publishing is not the music business. The reason music got into trouble was because consumers wanted a song, not a disk and Apple realized this. The “flood” of ebooks is like another slush pile and this makes it very hard for editors to find anything by searching through ebooks on the web. Occasionally will pick up a self-published book but it is very hard to find them. To be picked out have to create the sales.
Have met with various people about library solutions but haven’t found one yet. Ebooks “devaluing” the print book is probably not the right way to say it. They are selling the content of the book, not the form, so pricing an ebook at way below the price of a best selling, book, for example, devalues the “intellectual property” that is embodied in the book, be it e or p.