EXTRA! Q&A: An interview with Brian Napack, president of Holtzbrinck Publishers, on publishing’s digital future.
Magazines—that industry is rapidly becoming a dinosaur. They are in the relationship-management business and their audience is leaving. They’re going to be in big trouble. The audience is on the move, and we have to find them and service them. The role that magazines used to play was a very broad role in the world of a consumer. For Scientific American, our competitors are not magazine companies anymore. It’s the Discovery Channel. It’s Google and Yahoo that are getting the audience.
So our magazines are way out front with the transformation. The college text book business is behind, but they are moving forward. The students and professors are all using technology and integrating in the classroom. It’s definitely happening.
Trade publishing is way behind the curve. The entire trade publishing business is taking some time. We need to figure out new ways of delivering and packaging and selling content, and that process is well underway, but at a much earlier stage of maturation.
BB—Part of your job description as president is pretty open-ended--being in charge of acquisitions, strategic planning and business development.
BN—My role is a general management role, working with John (Sargent, Holtzbrinck CEO). So it’s partially a day-to-day management job. The other part of the job is forward thinking. How do you take these businesses and move them into the new era? These are the things I’m interested in. On the top of my priority list is our establishing Scientific American as the preeminent resource of science. That involves aggressive thinking of strategy. We’re very interested in growing organically, but also acquiring skills and assets.
BB—You’ve worked on start-ups for other corporations, established your own business and worked as a consultant. What’s the difference in working with a well-established company?
BN—At some level, conceptually it’s very different, but it’s really about entrepreneurship. I would not do this job if it was just about care-taking. We’re in a time of radical change in the media markets and the media at large. It’s about finding the opportunity. What is very different is that it is a very big company. It has existing ways of doing things, and I have to work within the construct of how people think, and occasionally they’re very successful with what they do. I would be much more concerted about doing something stupid. We have to be very careful to respect the well-oiled machine that they have. Holtzbrink is very nontraditional. It nurtures individuals. It’s a private company that doesn’t have to answer to Wall Street. We have air cover to do things we couldn’t do if we were Time Warner, Disney or even Comcast.