Generate a word-cloud from publishing commentary over the past half-decade, and “disintermediation” would undoubtedly appear in large type. The jettisoning of middlemen–be they publishers, traditional retailers, book media, or agents–from the publishing value chain is a well-documented phenomenon, encouraged by …
The Change Agents is an occasional series spotlighting the work of of people inside Big Publishing who confronting disruption with creativity, and helping their respective companies adapt, adjust, innovate, and reinvent. Read the anchor post here.
If you follow digital publishing, you know there’s one name that regularly pops up in conversations about innovation inside the big houses: Matt Schwartz. Matt is Vice President of Digital Marketing Strategy and Product Development at Random House, and has a reputation as a guy open to new thinking, willing to work with startups (!!), and excited about both new kinds of products and new methods of customer engagement enabled by smart uses of developing technology. It seems that every time we talk, he’s about to hop on a plane or step into a big brand meeting. Which confirms to me that Random is really excited about the kind of work he’s doing. In this brief interview, part of the occasional series, The Change Agents, Matt talks about Random’s culture of innovation, openness to experimentation, and efforts to build reader experiences across media.
Ashlock: You’re working deep in the belly of the biggest of the Big Six publishing. Tell us the other side of the Big-Publishing-Is-Doomed narrative: what do you think publishers are getting right?
Schwartz: I think the merging of quality content with digital innovation has produced an exciting time to be in publishing. One of the things I love about my job is being in a culture of innovation. It’s thrilling to have the ability to test many new things, both in terms of new product development and digital innovation in the marketing and publicity space. But what publishers like Random House also recognize is that if you try many things, some will not succeed. Trying something and having it not work is not a bad thing if you can learn from the experience and let it help shape your strategy going forward. In an industry changing this rapidly, no one has all the answers — and anyone who tells you differently doesn’t understand the industry.
That said, innovation is nothing without the right content to provide the foundation. Publishers remain committed to curating the best content, and then using innovation to ensure that it’s reaching the widest possible audience.
Ashlock: Can you explain what the Random House Worlds division does, and how it works?
Schwartz: Random House Worlds is a team within the Random House Publishing Group division, looking at various methods of developing content. There’s an internal level of development (the creation of original intellectual properties), an author level (working side-by-side with authors to develop properties they bring to us), and there’s a partnership level (partnering with companies in other media industries, including video games, film, and television). The goal is to create fictional worlds that are rich and deep enough to be realized across various types of media, not just books.
We’re developing a book series now that we’ll likely launch in 2014. At the same, we’re working with one of our authors on a property that he submitted to us. And we’ve also just signed a partnership deal with a group we’re really excited to work with—it’s a well-respected company from another major media industry. More to come on that soon.
Ashlock: Do you see a curiosity and interest among your peers and colleagues to break out of the container-publishing way of thinking? Is it possible to do so in a company whose business model is based on selling a bunch of containers?
Schwartz: I think everyone in publishing is thinking about what new opportunities may exist because of digital innovation. I don’t think that’s just limited to new products, either. New advances in technology have allowed publishers to have more data on the book-buying public than ever before, and provides them the ability to use real-time data to optimize marketing and publicity campaigns as well. Whether it’s looking at new product opportunities, or figuring out how to optimize marketing messaging for different types of consumers, or using metadata to increase discoverability, I think in every job in publishing, the containers of yesterday are already long gone.
But I do think the one container that isn’t going to go anywhere — nor should it — is the idea that we should be focusing all of these efforts on terrific content. Maybe that content doesn’t always take the same form as it may have taken in years past, but I think the concept of publishers providing the best content to consumers in whatever form they want it is a container that’s here to stay.
Ashlock: What are your own reading habits? What percentage is print and digital? What devices?
Schwartz: My own reading habits are probably a bit unusual. The vast majority of new content I purchase is in digital form, while my home library has hundreds of physical books that I cherish and reread regularly and can’t ever imagine parting with. But I’d say that my current purchases being digital boils down to two factors very specific to me. First of all, I have always been a huge consumer of short fiction and novellas, which have now discovered a fantastic new renaissance in digital where length in standalone product is not limited by physical production challenges. Secondly, most of my reading is done while commuting or traveling. Which is also the reason that almost all of my current reading is done on my smartphone — the ability to stand on a subway while turning pages of my book with just my thumb has made it easy for me to knock out a few pages of a book every time I get a free minute, no matter where I am.
<Click the tag The Change Agents to read all posts in this series.>
The familiar narrative goes something like this: Big Publishers, burdened by outmoded infrastructure and gatekeeper mentalities, are incapable of adapting to the mandates of the digital age. Meanwhile, cutting-edge technology companies are enabling writers and brands to succeed independently, nudging …