HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray on Acquisitions, Industry Change & Importance of Choice
On the morning of day three of the Digital Book World Conference + Expo, HarperCollins president and CEO Brian Murray offered his take on the future of his company and the industry at large. Sitting down with conference chair Mike Shatzkin, Murray spoke on HarperCollins' recent acquisitions, how the company is managing change, and how it is responding to self-publishing and subscription models.
Shatzkin kicked things off by inquiring about the effects of HarperCollins' "dramatic acquisitions" of romance publisher Harlequin and Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. Generally modest in his responses, Murray acknowledged that the Harlequin acquisition (completed in August of 2014) has been "transformational." Murray said both companies enable HarperCollins to expand into new markets.
Thomas Nelson, now a Christian division within HarperCollins, allows new inroads into markets like Latin America, said Murray. With Harlequin, HarperCollins has expanded its international footprint with access to 13 new countries and 17 new languages. With the avid and repeat reading habits of the romance audience, Murray hopes to use Harlequin as a springboard for HarperCollins broader trade business.
Shatzkin questioned whether a model exists for a multi-language book publisher. Murray conceded that Penguin Random House has been operating in multiple languages for quite a while, but he has very much looked to digital technology companies that have started in the U.S. and expanded globally for inspiration. "The questions becomes the how and when" this expansion takes place, said Murray. Where trying to grow international relationships organically would take a long time, acquisitions like that of Harlequin speed up the process.
HarperCollins' expansion has also been spurred by changes in customer behavior and new digital capabilities. With the limitless shelf space offered by Google, Nook, and Kobo, the publisher is no longer solely dependent on bookstores or large distributors, said Murray.