In a 30-minute talk at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Charlie Redmayne, recently ensconced as CEO of HarperCollins U.K., talked about taking his new job and how he plans on taking HC into the future. Moderator Ed Nawotka, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives, asked Redmayne a series of questions that revealed he believes in Amazon’s MatchBook e-bundling program; thinks HC can definitely compete with new global juggernaut Penguin Random House; and that, for all his focus on digital efforts, he still believes a strong publisher is only as good as its authors and editors.
Redmayne, who has a background in other media—he worked in television before entering publishing, and also had a stint overseeing J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore—was initially asked about the growing popularity of multi-platform storytelling. Believing that publishers need to see opportunity in digital beyond simply publishing an e-book alongside a print book, Redmayne said he wants to create “new storytelling experiences” that can be exploited by the growing array of digital reading devices. All the major companies filling the device market, from Google to Apple to Amazon, are, Redmayne said, hungry for content to fill their devices and raise their value.
Asked whether he thinks publishers can, and should, attempt to get into non-book markets—Nawotka wondered whether the overwhelmingly successful, story-driven, game Grand Theft Auto is the kind of thing a publisher should try to create—Redmayne said he doesn’t think publishers should try to take on game developers. Instead, he sees opportunities to work with stories “built around the written word” that can be exploited on multiple platforms and devices. This, Redmayne said, is best done with publishers focusing on the story, and then working with other companies that understand how to exploit the story on different platforms.
When the newly merged Penguin Random House was brought up by Nawotka—how does a big house compete with a company that will claim 40% of the books published in English?—Redmayne acknowledged that PRH will be stiff competition. But, he also noted that mergers are never easy and anyone who has been through the process “knows they have a tough job ahead.” Redmayne also questioned how nimble PRH will be, once it is merged, noting that a key to succeeding in today’s market is being able to move quickly on projects.
Looking at the big challenges for HC, and all publishers, Redmayne said he see three major things: the need to effectively market backlist; the need to figure out the best pricing models; and the need to look at marketing, and how to develop authors into long-term, successful brands. Pressed about what might be an ideal price point for books of various formats by Nawotka, Redmayne said he didn’t have numbers but, instead, wanted to use analytics to come to price points that will be amenable to consumers, while bringing in the most revenue for authors.