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Blanca Rosa Roca, founder and president of Roca Editorial and Barcelona Digital Editions (Ciudad de Libros and Barcelona eBooks are imprints of BDE) spoke with me via email about the partnership, her career in publishing, the Spanish ebook market and more.
Deanna Utroske: Tell me a bit about your work and your past professional experience.
Blanca Rosa Roca: I’m an economist and have been working for twenty-seven years in the publishing sector. I started in the public relations department of Ediciones B and, not long afterwards, I was appointed manager of the publishing house. I founded Roca Editorial, along with five other partners, at the end of 2003.
I like to participate in all aspects of publishing work—editorial, sales, and marketing—and I especially enjoy being in contact with the authors.
In these last ten years, the book world has changed enormously. In my opinion, the digital revolution has been as important as that of print. From the beginning, I believed that as a medium-sized and independent publisher, Roca Editorial had to keep up to date with what was happening and, more than that, ensure that our publishing house carved out an important position in this new digital ecosystem.
Aside from Roca being one of the first companies to publish ebooks, I saw that digital technology provided an opportunity to publish books in English by Spanish authors—a project that I tried in print, but that proved to be much more complicated.
That gave birth to Barcelona Digital Editions and its imprint Barcelona eBooks, an English-language digital publisher. Barcelona eBooks brings Spanish authors to English-speaking readers and mainly publishes historical and fictional works set in Barcelona. We also publish Noah Gordon, a long-selling author in Europe who is not as well known in the UK and the US. BDE is owned by Roca Editorial, the majority shareholder, and by Michael Gordon.
To market and distribute Barcelona eBooks we established a partnership with Open Road Media, led by Jane Friedman, one of the most innovative digital publishers in the industry.
Once I understood better what Open Road does, and how they do it, I decided we needed a Spanish publisher that did the same: publishing renowned authors, many of whom are out-of-print, for new generations of digital readers.
DU: Please describe your company’s history and previous milestone achievements.
BRR: One of Roca Editorial’s achievements has been to publish internationally recognized authors such as Noah Gordon, E.L. Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Sparks, Edward Rutherford, Elizabeth George, and many more. And we have also helped new authors gain recognition, many of whom have been a great success, such as John Verdon, Jacqueline Kelly, and, among others, the Spanish authors José Manuel García Marín, José Luis Serrano, and Julián Sánchez. Digital sales look set to account for around 14% of our turnover this year, whereas in Spain the figure being talked about is 3%.
DU: Recently on Digital Book World, there’s been a discussion about how “the success stories and challenges of women in the industry are not being shared as much.”
Please share your insights into the opportunities and challenges for women in the digital publishing industry.
BRR: It’s the same story in other sectors, not just digital publishing. The publishing business is a very female one, with many more women employees than men and many more women customers, given that there are more female readers.
There are more female literary agents than male (at least in Spain)—you only have to take a look around the Frankfurt Book Fair—but there aren’t so many women in senior management. I was the first woman on the Board of Directors in the Publishers’ Guild of Catalonia, and one of the first CEOs of a large publisher.
It’s always the senior management who appear in the press. We also have to consider that technology is an important factor in the digital world, and the presidents of Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Google are men.
In Spain, there are women leading publishing houses of varying sizes, such as Núria Cabutí, CEO of Random House Mondadori, Maite Cuadros, head of Maeva, and Rosalina Díaz, president of Wolters Kluver Spain. However, although there are more women than there were ten years ago, there are still very few of us, and we must continue getting positions on the boards of large companies.
DU: What advice would you share with up-and-coming professional women?
BRR: Firstly, they need a passion for books and to be inquisitive about everything new. The digital world evolves at a rapid pace and you have to keep up. Above all, common sense is essential, and also ambition—even though some people consider it to be a derogatory word for women but not for men.
DU: You’re just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair. What did you learn there that will inform the new Ciudad de Libros/Open Road Espanol partnership?
BRR: I still have a lot to learn, but I know that we are on the right path and, as Markus Dohle said in an interview, digital publishing is getting a lot of attention right now, but print continues to be more important in terms of number of copies and turnover. I really enjoy reading on an e-reader, and I have six of them—the Kindle Paperwhite being the latest—but it is clear to me that printed books also have a long life.
DU: What is the size and scope of the global Spanish-language ebook market?
BRR: We are three years behind the UK and the US, and the problem in Spain is that there are lots of ebook readers and few ebook sales per device, which is also due to piracy. Latin America lags behind Spain, but it is growing very rapidly, especially since the arrival of Apple a few months ago and now Amazon.
DU: You’ve already worked with Open Road on Barcelona eBooks to distribute English-language titles. What lessons have you learned from that endeavor?
BRR: Above all, our work with Open Road gave us the idea of creating a digital backlist publisher. Open Road has the kind of marketing team that many of us publishers dream about—a large team that plans excellent campaigns, making use of all kinds of events and anniversaries. However, each market needs a different approach, appropriate to its readers, and this is something that we have to keep in mind.
DU: Chief among the commonalities between Barcelona Digital Editions and Open Road is a focus on marketing and communications. How is that proficiency going to benefit this partnership?
BRR: As I’ve mentioned, our strength lies is the knowledge that both companies have of their markets and our ability to adapt our campaigns accordingly. In the US, retail marketing is much more developed than in Spain, and we can learn how it’s done.
DU: Why else did you select Open Road as a partner? Or, how did the Ciudad de Libros/Open Road Espanol partnership come about?
BRR: We are a medium-sized, independent publishing house and, as we’re not part of a business group, I like looking for partnerships. In Spain we have done that with Roca Editorial and Random House Mondadori, who are our distributors here and in Latin America. For print books we have a US wholesaler and distributor in common with four other publishers, and, for digital, I decided that Open Road was our best partner in the US, as it doesn’t belong to a group and has become a formidable digital publisher in a very short time.
DU: What can other publishers learn from the Ciudad de Libros/Open Road Espanol partnership?
BRR: Publishers in Spain and Latin America can partner with Ciudad de Libros so that we can manage the distribution and marketing of their backlists.