Publishing Scotland Conference – Keynote Speech – COSLA – 24th February 2015.
If you’re going to lose £1m on a book, at least make sure you’re damn proud to publish it.
“We’re often quick to see catastrophe where there is none,” says Charlie Redmayne, CEO of HarperCollins UK. We forecast imminent decline, but the publishing industry is robust. There are challenges, and there will be casualties, but the same goes for every other industry.
Publishers continue to do what they do well. As Amazon continues to drive up margins and their market share, it’s a challenge that everyone must face. Being the digital guy, people assumed his takeover would see him rip everything up, start again and make everything digital. But he knew that editorial was the heart of the business – without great editorial teams and authors, there would be no digital.
His M.O. was to empower his editors. He didn’t come from an editorial background, but it’s about portfolio management. Their business is built on broad success, not hits; they are just the icing on the cake.
HarperCollins’ children’s list was a target for growth, which has no finer example than David Walliams, the TV star familiar with adults, developing into the leading voice of the children’s fiction market. Their autobiography lists were also the source of revamp, not taking up people in their fifteen minutes of fame, but seeking great stories with longevity and global appeal. They do have some exciting announcements coming in the next few weeks to keep an eye out for.
A key piece of advice he was given when he became CEO was this: If you’re going to lose £1m on a book, at least make sure you’re damn proud to publish it.
As he talks of their work with Harlequin, global rights and the growth of businesses in different sectors, he concludes that no one should be complacent about disruption in this industry. Everyone needs to keep innovating, because if they don’t, someone else will. Moving through the potential of storytelling on augmented reality, he adds that he’s “inspired by this industry. It has smart and innovative thinking across the board.”
A postscript for student advice: “Publishing is a fantastic industry. It’s important to have passion for the product. People in the business are challenged by what comes naturally to you. We’re good at other important things, but we’re not digital natives. What is natural to you, with passion, gives you a head start in the industry and will give you influence at a higher level. It’s a huge opportunity.”