By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid
Book Country president Molly Barton has been promoted to global digital director at Penguin Group where she will be responsible for all of the major book publisher’s digital products and will liaise with parent company Pearson on digital strategy. She starts in her new position on December 1.
Dan Ruffino, who had been in the position since 2010, will be leaving the company to return to Australia, where he is from. He had been with Penguin for over a decade, according to a company spokesperson who confirmed the move to Digital Book World.
Barton, 32, was previously vice president of digital publishing and business development and strategy, a role that she was promoted to in September of this year. Barton is also president of Book Country, which today announced the launch of a suite of self-publishing tools.
Barton got her start as an assistant editor to Carole DeSanti, the long-time Penguin acquisitions editor who worked on the novels of Terry McMillan and others. After a year working for DeSanti, Barton was invited to apply to a unique position within Penguin: publishing coordinator, reporting to Penguin Group (USA) president Susan Petersen Kennedy. In that position, Barton was like a “senate aide” for Kennedy, she said, attending meetings on her behalf and learning about all parts of the business.
Because she was in a position so close to the leadership of the company, Barton spotted the opportunity in digital books early on and was part of Penguin’s push to digitize from the very beginning.
We sat down with Barton to discuss her precipitous rise at Penguin, Book Country and the most exciting thing about digital publishing right now.
Jeremy Greenfield: Congratulations on your promotion. What will you be doing?
Molly Barton: The focus of my new role is on products that are individual to particular books. I’ll also be partnering with our parent company, Pearson, to make sure we have a solid digital roadmap for the future.
JG: Enhanced e-books, apps, subscriptions, etc.?
JG: How did you get your start in digital?
I was helping Carole [DeSanti] and was acquiring books. I acquired a few things and still edit a few people today. After about a year working for Carole, I was invited to apply to a unique position at Penguin: publishing coordinator, reporting up to Penguin’s president, Susan Kennedy. In that position, you support the president almost like a Senate aide. You see all sides of the business, you attend meetings with her, you attend meetings on her behalf. It was a great opportunity to understand the company as an organism and how all the pieces function together, where problems and opportunities might arise.
Other people [at Penguin] who have had that position have gone on to successful roles.
At that time, e-books were just starting to become a reality and I was involved from the beginning in Penguin rushing to digitize our content and distribute it properly.
JG: In addition to your new role, you’ll still be president of Book Country, which launched some exciting new publishing tools today.
MB: The reason I’m doing it is because I saw the challenge that most self-publishers go through – it’s very hard. Most self-published authors sell less than 20 copies. And they’re disconnected from the rest of the community – editors to help them edit, design standards.
There’s no other site self-publishing site where you can workshop your work, connect with readers and make the most of your work.
[Book Country authors] start cultivating their readership before publication. With the website, we’ve focused a lot of energy and time to create discoverability tools, including the genre map.
JG: Discoverability is a big issue right now. Some of the people I spoke with about Book Country were very impressed with how the genre map and parts of the self-publishing process seamlessly integrate meta-data into the finished product to help sell the book.
MB: Discoverability has become a buzzword. The point is that as content proliferates it’s harder and harder for readers to find the thing that is going to be most enjoyable to them. Every entity within the publishing industry and ecosystem needs to find ways to create clustered groups around content that is interesting to a specific audience.
MB: What is really exciting about digital books and digital publishing is that you can have an ongoing relationship with the reader. Serialized content is possible, short content between books is possible. It creates a longer-form engagement with your audience.
We’re at a really exciting moment and we have been for a while. There’s an opportunity to find writers – whether they’ve self published or workshopped their books on Book Country – and open up the possibility for publishing more books. There’s lots of new ways to collaborate, lots of new ways to expand the kinds of people that are published and the kinds of stories that get mass attention and the way that you engage with the reader.
JG: Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. If you can self-publish on Book Country, why do you need Penguin?
MB: There’s a lot of conversation around, “well, if you’re self publishing why do you need the publisher?” Self-publishing has been around for a while, it’s just that the tools are now more available. You don’t have to drive around with books in the back of your Subaru. At this point in time, we’re at a different point in the industry where there’s an understanding that there are multiple paths forward for authors.
JG: This new Book Country self-publishing tool went out the door with a very clean, simple design and workflow. Some of the a la carte offerings available at other self-publishing sites are not yet available on Book Country.
MB: There are lots of services that I want to offer in 2012 that are not fully baked or ready to discuss.
JG: So, you’ll have a phased rollout. How did you initially develop Book Country?
MB: At the beginning of the Book Country project, I worked with a firm called LBi (Lost Boys International) [based in London]. They’re a digital strategy firm. We talked to them about strategy and design. We hired a PhD mathematician to come up with the algorithms that power the genre map. Everything else was built by Penguin and Pearson developers. We have a great, though small, team of developers that have been working on the site for over the year.
The way that we built and developed it was a lot of discussion, white-boarding, consultation with editors, writers, agents, conversations about what works, what doesn’t work on other websites. There was a lot of discussion and collaboration with technology.
JG: Speaking of technology, how do you attract and retain the right people to work on such a project – and similar projects in the future?
MB: In my experience, technologists are really excited to work with book publishers because the content we have is high quality.
JG: What are you reading and on what platform?
MB: I just downloaded A Visit From the Goon Squad onto my Nook Color.
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