Random House: Three Lessons Learned From Fifty Shades

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Imagine if Random House had published both Fifty Shades and Hunger Games...

Imagine if Random House had published both Fifty Shades and Hunger Games…

In its annual report for 2012, released today, Bertelsmann has a lengthy write-up on Fifty Shades of Grey. No wonder, as the series helped drive Random House (owned and operated by Bertelsmann) to a record year, with nearly $3 billion in revenues and over $400 million in profit.

In the report, Bertelsmann talks about the lessons it learned from Fifty Shades:

1. New strategies. “Publishers have to look beyond traditional routes and consider different strategies when it comes to acquisitions.” E.L. James didn’t come to Random House through an agent or even the front door. She made her own success without the company first, before RH acquired the rights to Fifty Shades and made it the fastest-selling book in history.

We’ve seen others take this exact route recently. Hugh Howie made Wool a best-selling ebook before doing a deal for print with Simon & Schuster. And, more recently, Jennifer L. Armentrout, self-published Wait for You and saw it rocket up the charts before signing a six-figure deal with HarperCollins.

Related: What Authors Want — Understanding Authors in the Era of Self-Publishing


2. Speed. “This was an instance where a publisher acted swiftly to arrange a meeting with the author and her agent, and then just as quickly we structured a deal to bring the books to market as soon as possible.”

In the era of self-publishing, speed matters. When those few authors who are given the choice between various publishers or going it alone, speed to market can make the difference in decision-making. According to our recent report on author attitudes, 49% of all authors factor in speed-to-market in their decision making when it comes to how to publish. However, when it comes to self-published authors and “hybrid” authors (those who have both published traditionally and self-published), about 60% factor speed-to-market in their decision-making.


3. Blocking and tackling. “Instinct and intuition will continue to play a forward role in book publishing, but they go hand-in-hand with personal relationships, response time, maximizing digital and print delivery, operational excellence, and having strong creative teams.”

There is no silver bullet for success in the ebook era. While there are opportunities for publishers to get innovative (market and sell directly to consumers, build new kinds of digital and multi-platform projects, for instance), publishing success still comes from being able to do well what all publishers have done well forever: find and develop great content and bring it to market.

One thought on “Random House: Three Lessons Learned From Fifty Shades

  1. Chrinda Jones

    Great article. It’s great to see that publishing houses are thinking outside of themselves when it comes to finding new works. It’s also nice to see that they are finally acknowledging the wants and needs of the author.



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