DBW Insights: Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins
In this exclusive interview, Brian Murray, CEO of HarperCollins, discusses the thinking about books beyond their print containers, return on investment and keeping up with the pace of innovation, and the HarperCollins’s 26-lend policy for ebooks in libraries.
From the interview:
We’re at this point where our editors are really working with the author. For us, it’s all about the best voices, the best authors, and the best stories. Yet consumers now are able to engage with that story on different devices, devices that are now connected to the web, devices that allow video. There are so many things that we can imagine today when you think about the container, but we don’t necessarily start with the container. We start with a really good idea, a really good author, and what we do is figure out how best can we reach the broadest possible audience and bring that author’s idea to the most number of readers. So these new containers that are out there are just new vehicles for us to do what we’ve been doing for decades.
We’re in trade book publishing and we don’t get a positive ROI on a lot of the books that we do. So we have a culture where we’re always experimenting. We’re experimenting with different authors all the time, so it’s not difficult for us to move from experimenting on, and taking risks on, big authors to what other ways might a consumer enjoy that story. I think our culture suits our ability to try new things in this new emerging digital world. So I’m not worried about that. I worry about making sure we’re trying enough new things, because the rate of change is really one of the biggest challenges we face.
Libraries are a really important channel for HarperCollins. We’ve talked about discovery of books and libraries are where a lot of discovery happens in many communities across the country. So HarperCollins is committed to that library channel. The challenge is that we’re trying to balance the needs of all of our stakeholders. So librarians and their patrons are stakeholders, as are authors, and as are booksellers. As this business transitions from physical to digital, it’s forcing us to think about different business models and try to make sure that all of those stakeholders have a role to play in the future. So when we were looking at the library channel, the idea of having almost a subscription model is actually a unique business model. Right now, it is the only channel where we have offered this kind of business model. We’re struggling to find the right business model that can work for libraries. The rationale behind it was, “let’s find something that’s unique and different that libraries might adopt,” and we put it out there and we’re now listening to everyone to see what they have to say. We’re going to continue to listen over the coming months and we encourage librarians to try it to see if it works.
A joint production of Digital Book World and Astral Road Brand Media: http://www.astralroad.com/. Founded by Rich Fahle, Astral Road Media is a full-service digital media agency, providing content strategy, design, video production, and other creative forms of social outreach for authors and content creators of all types.