5 Questions with Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO, Codex-Group

Peter Hildick-Smith, dbw, digital book world conferencePeter Hildick-Smith is the CEO of Codex-Group, where he leads book audience strategy research through large sample, quantitative pre-market testing. Prior to founding Codex, Peter was the chief marketing officer for GE Capital Global Consumer UK, and the SVP of customer management for GE Capital Retail Financial Services North America.

He also served as VP of marketing for the Young Readers, School, College and Library businesses, as well as corporate VP of merchandising for Bertelsmann’s Bantam, Doubleday, Dell division.

Peter is also a speaker at DBW 2017, where he will lead a session on converting book browsers into buyers, and lead a panel discussion of book pricing strategies.

We spoke with Peter about his two DBW sessions, as well as what he believes are the biggest issues in publishing.

You’re the CEO of Codex-Group. Can you tell us a little about what you guys are working on now?

Since our founding in 2004, Codex-Group has focused on being a direct bridge between the book consumer and the publishers, authors, retailers and tech companies who depend on their business. Whether that includes developing the best launch message for an upcoming title from an individual thriller author, pre-market testing new consumer sales conversion programs for an online bookseller, or revitalizing a brand for a middle grade publisher, our goal is to always find the most effective way to convert more book buyers to purchase the right book, the right author or the right brand, from the right bookseller.

In your view, what are some of the most pressing issues in publishing right now?

While the threat of ebook format dominance, and the price deflation that comes with it, has largely passed, digitization continues to drive significant book buyer behavior changes, and market fragmentation. More of book buyers’ leisure time is distracted by mobile device “entertainment snacking,” and what free time is left over has an unprecedented number of new titles competing for it (Kindle alone added more than 1 million titles last year). As a result even the biggest titles get far less time on the bestseller list, readers rely more on established “brand” authors, fewer new authors are breaking out, and book buyers are overwhelmed with more new book information available than ever before.

Even though we’re returning to greater traditional (print) format dominance, the consumer act of buying a new book has become increasingly more complicated. New buyer behaviors are emerging that simply didn’t exist a few years ago, further changing the rules of the publishing game. Those new rules have to be understood and mastered if we’re to drive industry growth.

You’re leading a session at DBW 2017 titled “Getting to Yes: Converting Book Browsers to Book Buyers in the Age of Overload.” What will that session cover?

One of the great paradoxes with book buyers is that the majority of the time they’re not buyers at all. They read far more books each month than they buy, and are only actual new book buyers for about one book in four—a huge opportunity loss for publishers, retailers, authors and agents!

The rest of the time they read for free—from libraries, free ebook downloads, borrowing from friends or family, or they buy low-price used books from resellers. So getting a book person to just discover and hopefully browse a new book is only the beginning of a complex journey that may or may not ultimately lead to a book sale.

To better understand today’s book buyer journey, Codex interviewed more than 8,000 past month book buyers in the last four months to map the path they now take from initial discovery to reading interest to purchase interest to actually buying a book new, now.

We’re going to explore the key steps and decisions a book buyer makes in today’s hyper-cluttered book market to get to “yes,” and discuss some of the obstacles and potential solutions to converting an interested book reader into an actual book buyer.

You’re also leading a panel discussion called “Book Pricing Strategies for 2017: What the Big 5 Can’t Talk About.” Can you give us a preview of the sort of ideas you’ll be touching on?

With the U.S. Department of Justice settlement, book pricing is of course an off-limits topic for major publishers to discuss, but it obviously remains an essential sales driver for both new and backlist titles.

We have a terrific panel of book pricing experts: Dan Lubart from Iobyte, Katie Donelan from BookBub and Venky Subramanian from Vistaar Technologies—all with tremendous day-to-day experience in dynamic pricing testing, launch pricing strategies, and promotional pricing. They’ll be sharing their latest results on new pricing programs, providing insight into the effect on overall revenue and profitability. I’ll also be sharing some of Codex’s most recent book buyer price segmentation findings.

What made you want to be involved in DBW 2017?

The U.S. consumer book business continues to change and evolve in the context of the overall media market. I find that DBW is the best event each year to hear from and get to know the people leading those changes so I can better understand the next wave of industry innovation and growth as it’s developing.

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