HarperCollins Audience Development Director Jim Hanas: Finding an Audience, Book-by-Book

jim hanasThe barriers to publishing a book and distributing it widely have come down, creating a renaissance in the world of self-publishing. While great for authors and ebook retailers, this sea change has created some problems for publishers.

Notably, some authors wonder why they need a publisher. While distribution into bookstores is the No. 1 reason authors value the services of a publisher, there are others, including quality editing and providing the kind of marketing muscle that large organizations can muster.

Responding to this trend, HarperCollins, one of the world’s largest publishing companies, has been remaking its marketing efforts, starting with hiring a new chief marketing officer who comes from outside of book publishing, Angela Tribelli. As expected, Tribelli has started bringing on other professionals to help execute her vision.

Enter Jim Hanas, HarperCollins’ new director of audience development as of Feb. 2013. In other media companies, audience development departments help build lasting relationships with customers through email and data acquisition, social media engagement and more. Before his current role, Hanas had never held a position at a publishing house, but, in a way, he’s the ultimate insider when it comes to digital publishing.

Hanas comes to HarperCollins from the New York Observer, where he was the social media editor. There, he helped grow the social media audience of the New York media property while changing the culture of the newsroom. Prior to that, he held positions at New York-based start-up Sonnet Media, NYC & Company (where he worked with Tribelli), Print Magazine (sister publication to DBW), Radar Magazine and other media properties. He has a bachelor’s of philosophy and psychology from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and a master’s of philosophy from the University of Memphis.

In addition to his online media experience, Hanas has been publishing ebooks before most people in publishing knew what they were. He self-published his first ebook, Single, in 2006, a collection of two of his previously published stories – a radical experiment at the time. That release and other such experiments led him to an ebook publishing deal in 2010 with Toronto-based ECW Press for his story collection Why They Cried.

We spoke with Hanas about moving from online media to books, how he plans to help HarperCollins find an audience for each of its titles and how Digital Book World helped him get a leg up in digital publishing.


Jeremy Greenfield: You come from outside the publishing industry but have some familiarity with the industry from your early ebook publishing adventures. What made you decide to join up with HarperCollins?

Jim Hanas: I was a short story writer and I had a lot of short stories that had been published but I found that nobody was really reading them. I got interested in around 2005 in ebooks, in self-anthologizing. I was following what was going on with ebooks at that time which were basically considered dead except by Cory Doctorow [outspoken digital publishing observer, editor of website Boing Boing and best-selling author of Little Brother and other books] and John Scalzi [president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and author of the Old Man’s War series of books and other titles]. So, I wrote my own ebook. I packaged it like an indie rock single and that got me interested in that world.

DBW plays an important part in how I got involved in the publishing scene. Guy [LeCharles Gonzalez, who helped launch DigitalBookWorld.com in 2010] came across my single and a quote in it and put it in one of his webcasts and I got more and more involved in testing that market and got more involved in traditional publishing. I had a second ebook that was well reviewed and then got a small deal with ECW Press. I went from avocational to vocational.

So, when Angella Tribelli jumped to HarperCollins, it was kind of amazing because I was spending all my extra time learning about the publishing industry so it just seemed like a perfect move.


JG: Most people in publishing have what I call a “love of the game.” They love books and publishing and couldn’t be happier being a part of the industry. You’ve written and published books and now you’re working on the business side.

JH: I like both sides of the game. I’m a literary writer and a literary reader and that’s what I love from an artistic perspective but you’ll find from my resume that I do enjoy digital media and how it’s changing and how it works. So, I actually enjoy the game of figuring out how to get content in front of the people who want it.


JG: There’s a lot of transition in the industry right now. What’s your view of what’s happening as an outsider?

JH: I started in media working for an alternative weekly [newspaper] in 1995. We didn’t have a dedicated email. I did everything by phone call. We wrote articles and they went into the paper and ads came from somewhere – I don’t know where – and then the newspaper was circulated by trucks that threw them on the corner. Everything has changed since.

I think it’s going through all the growing pains that all the others are. The book industry is in a very interesting position compared to music or newspapers. The book is still a package of content that we are accustomed to paying for. Napster broke the habit in music and we’re not used to paying for news.


JG: When you were hired, we reported that HarperCollins was taking a cue from other parts of the media industry in hiring someone for audience development. Can you talk about this? What was your role at the Observer and how will it be different at HarperCollins?

JH: It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since I got here. I was director of social media at one place where they wanted me to take the audience development title but I said no because I didn’t understand it. I don’t put a lot of stock in these titles but I definitely think it is a role and I’m sure you can find people at other publishers fulfilling this role.

My whole career I’ve built content products and built audiences for them. At Ad Age, I relaunched AdCritic.com and launched a newsletter and we built an audience for it. This is just a function of speaking directly to consumers and building consumer channels. This is unique in the brand world because they [big consumer brands] weren’t in the media business at all. All of a sudden, Pepsi has millions of Facebook fans that they have to talk to now even though they’re not a media company.

The book business is very unique in that the end users are consumers but the immediate clients are not consumers. The bad news is that we’re in the same situation as Pepsi in that we’re now addressing consumers. The good news is that we’re in the media business so we know how to entertain people.

Every piece of content – whether it’s an article in the New York Observer or a book from Ecco Press – has an audience of a certain size and is out there and audience development in my mind is the role of building systems and maintaining content strategy that make it as easy for us to reach that audience with that piece of content.


JG: So, you’re reporting to Angela Tribelli. What will you be doing exactly?

JH: I work at the corporate level with Angela. We have many imprints under us and they’re autonomous and they have their own digital marketing groups. At the corporate level, we provide tools that those imprints can use to build audience.

We also work on email acquisition strategy, social media strategy and content marketing strategy – anything where we are publishing or acquiring original content and distributing it as a way to gain attention for a product we are selling.

Related: Q&A With New HarperCollins Chief Marketing Officer Angela Tribelli


JG: Will we be seeing HarperCollins launch any new media entities to this end?

JH: We have content plays out there now. If you look at Avon books, it’s a social platform that pulls in posts by authors. There’s already content marketing for HarperCollins. I absolutely think content marketing is an important audience development strategy and an opportunity we should be looking at.

At Digital Book World and other cutting edge conferences, we all like to talk about the Tor.com model. Obviously, you’ve got to look at things like that. That’s an essential part of the role.


JG: What are book publishers doing right when it comes to audience development?

JH: As somebody who came up from the Digital Book World community, I would hang in with the insurgents and the leading edge of people both inside and outside the industry. I would like to correct the perception that the big five [Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster] don’t know what they’re doing and they’re too slow and need to catch up. I don’t think that’s true.

I think if you look across the industry, they’re exploring all the viable audience development options that are out there. Tor.com is a good example. Bookish is a pretty ambitious example of audience development. To date, the biggest play by the big five is Bookish.

As an example of something going on at HarperCollins which is good is a program is Avon Addicts, which has been a very successful for us. We had thousands of applications for 25 spots to become an “Avon Addict” which is brand ambassadors that get lots of perks.


JG: What are publishers doing wrong?

JH: There’s a general awareness in book publishing that you have to develop your own pushing power, which is the ability on any given title to deliver audience at the point of sale. The business-to-consumer capabilities are something that publishers need to develop and are developing.


JG: Does something fundamentally change for a publisher when it gains that ability to push a large audience to any given book with its own audience development efforts? If and when that scale is reached, should book publishers start selling directly to consumers?

JH: This building was built with book people. What we would like to do is to continue to sell books and, at least in the short term, the goal is to increase our effectiveness in doing that. As far as having an audience and having the channels ourselves, if we are unable to transact, we at least want to bring the audience to the point of sale.


JG: In the world of content marketing, one of the holy grails is to own a piece of media that actually generates revenue. A good example is custom published magazines like Departures and Endless Vacation.

JH: I think it’s interesting all these situations that the various media find themselves in. A magazine now has all these page-views that they have to monetize which actually makes the economics of paying for new, original content very difficult. Because it’s difficult to monetize those page-views at a rate that can pay for the content. On the other hand, you have non-content companies – there’s a deodorant company that has an amazing Gawker-esque blog that gets a lot of traffic and they’re not selling ads on it. Essentially, they’re doing the blog instead of buying ads. They have a monetization plan which involves moving more product.

Is it easier and use that monetization to build content or is it easier to have a content plan and then try to monetize it?

I’m not sure that it’s necessarily required that it pays for itself. If you have a monetization model where you would either go pay for advertising that would bring those eyeballs to you or you create a product that brings those eyeballs to you for the same amount or less, you don’t need a second revenue stream.


JG: What are you reading and on what platform?

JH: The last thing I opened was Richard Hell’s autobiography called I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. I am reading it in the BlueFire Reader on my Samsung Galaxy Note I. I am almost an exclusively a digital reader.


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