5 Questions with Dominique Raccah, CEO & Publisher, Sourcebooks

Dominique RaccahDominique Raccah is the entrepreneurial CEO of Sourcebooks, which she founded in 1987, and today is one of the largest independent book publishers in the United States and home to dozens of bestselling authors.

Growing through small and large innovations, Sourcebooks has repeatedly created new ways for readers to interact with books, from Poetry Speaks (called the “definitive anthology” of poets reading their own work) to Put Me In The Story, the successful app and website that allows you to personalize bestselling books.

At Digital Book World 2016, Raccah will be part of a panel called “Women at the Intersection of Publishing, Finance and Tech,” and will give a mainstage presentation in which she discusses Sourcebooks’s transformation.

We recently spoke to Raccah about how Sourcebooks has innovated, how she feels about the future of the industry, and what her DBW presentations will focus on.

What’s the one area that you’re most fascinated by in book publishing right now? What area is ripe for transformation?

I’m interested in the interface between readers and content. That’s the space that’s always fascinated me. Over the years, we’ve worked on how to amplify content, how to mix different kinds of content together, how to simplify the way you relate to content and how to make content more local. Today, as can be seen in our Put Me In The Story initiative, I’m fascinated by the concept of personalization. Personalization is a much bigger idea then people realize. The world of media—of which books are an integral part—has become increasingly and intensely personal. People want and can have experiences that are better keyed to who they are and what they care about. So what fascinates me is combining the content that our creative partners do so well with the best of technology and user-experience in the digital space.

That type of work can add real value for authors, illustrators, licensors and publishers, and can also have significant impact on our retail partners. From the beginning, my passion—and the passion of our team—has been to inspire a love of reading and to connect readers more closely with authors and content. It’s why we say, “We publish authors, not books.” Today, we can help authors in many ways, not just in the books that we publish for them. Put Me in the Story is merely our latest—not our first or last—innovation in pursuit of this mission.

How do you feel about the state of publishing overall? Are we in a good spot, or is there any cause for concern?

I think at this point, it’s clear that publishing is undergoing a very different transformation than other media. It’s probably the thing we talk the least about, as an industry. When we started down the road to digital books, you regularly met people who believed that all books would be digital someday and that the physical book would disappear completely. Today, most of us understand that this is an “and” conversation rather than an “or” conversation. Ebooks are additive in much the same way that other formats before them have been additive. But ebooks by their very nature also open a world of opportunity, so as an industry we now find ourselves centered in both the old world of content and the new world of technology.

Put Me In the Story is one of the more clever developments to come out of traditional book publishing in recent years. How did the idea for that come about, and what were the steps involved in making it happen?

The idea for Put Me In the Story started with conversations with our authors around how people were actually using their books. Greg Lang mentioned that people were cutting out their own pictures and text to create more personal versions of his bestselling books. Another one of our authors, Marianne Richmond, told us that people were pasting in pictures of their children to create keepsake versions of her books. We saw the opportunity for people to experience bestselling content in more personal ways than they could get with a traditional retail product.

We started with an app, then built a dedicated website at PutMeInTheStory.com to make our children’s books available with the child embedded into the story providing a beautiful keepsake book. The initial focus was on bedtime but has continued to evolve to feature bestselling content and characters across all occasions and age ranges.

Creating Put Me In The Story involved all facets of our company, starting with our editorial group working alongside our technology group. As Steve Jobs said, “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology.” We talked to groups of moms about what would be a great experience for them and their children. We utilized our PR team, built out a dedicated e-commerce business, working to tell our story to the world. We also needed to expand our customer service team to help field questions from customers purchasing directly from us. That area has now expanded to a completely separate area called customer care.

We’re constantly iterating to create a delightful customer experience across all of the areas that customers encounter Put Me In the Story, and to work with partners, like Barnes & Noble, who recently launched a Put Me In The Story program in 211 of their stores, to bring that experience to customers in new ways. We are still at the very beginning of the possibilities of personalized content and are excited about what the future holds.

Without giving too much away, what are some of the highlights that you plan on speaking on at DBW?

In broad strokes, I’m going to be talking about transformation and new revenue streams. As you pointed out, there is a lot of conversation about the health of our industry, and I think that innovating and finding new ways for authors and content creators to connect with and delight readers is crucial. Technology and transformation will be a big part of that.

Why do you come to DBW year after year?

To learn and to connect. The industry is in a state of transformation and there are so many opportunities available to us with new technology and new partnerships. DBW is a great venue to hear what people are working on and to share ideas about how we can expand the publishing world together.

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