HarperCollins Named Publishing Innovator of the Year
“To resist change, at this point, is true foolishness,” says HarperCollins Publishers Worldwide President and CEO Jane Friedman. Under Friedman’s direction over the last 11 years, HarperCollins has gone beyond not “resisting” change; the company has, in fact, been a pioneer of change, several paces ahead of the industry in many of its endeavors regarding digital content creation and distribution, marketing and audience-building. This year, the company—one of the largest English-language publishers in the world—has been named as book business’ Publishing Innovator of the Year in recognition of the company’s leadership and innovation.
The first-annual award was presented to HarperCollins at an awards reception on Monday evening, March 10, during the Publishing Business Conference & Expo in New York City. Friedman accepted the award on behalf of the company and was joined at the event by a number of HarperCollins’ top executives.
“It’s an acknowledgment that makes us very, very happy and very proud,” says Friedman. “As I said [during my acceptance speech at the awards reception] … we know we’re innovators; but the truth is that when someone gives you an award for innovation it makes you kind of feel even better.”
Leadership on the Digital Frontier
One of HarperCollins’ most significant achievements was its creation of a digital warehouse two years ago, when most others in the industry were battling with decisions about whether or not to get in bed with Google’s Book Search (Books. Google.com) or other online search engines’ book-digitization efforts. While HarperCollins does make books available via Google’s Book Search, the company decided to take control of its content by creating its own digital warehouse, which now contains more than 12,000 titles worldwide.
“We felt … that having a digital warehouse for so many reasons—not the least of which being maintaining copyright— was just essential,” says Friedman.
The company now can securely provide content in digital formats and offer content previews, such as through its Browse Inside and Sneak Peek programs. HarperCollins launched its initial Browse Inside feature in August 2006, enabling consumers to view online select pages from thousands of HarperCollins titles. In November 2007, it embedded all its book content into its site with the latest Browse Inside version. The company’s Sneak Peek is a new program “where we alert people who have newsletter subscriptions with us … to come to the site to get 20-percent access to selected titles up to two weeks ahead of the on-sale date,” explains Carolyn Pittis, HarperCollins senior vice president, marketing strategy and operations.
In February, the company took the book-preview concept a step further by launching its Full Access program, which makes the entire content for a select number of titles available to consumers online for a limited time. Through the program, the company is working with authors to determine the impact free access will have on book sales.
Full Access is an example of Harper- Collins’ willingness to experiment with new models to provide content to consumers when and how they want it. In early 2006, the company was the first major trade book publisher to provide an entire book (“Go It Alone!: The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own”) online for free, selling advertising alongside each page of online content.
HarperCollins Australia was among the first book publishers in the world to test launch a mobile-publishing platform. HarperCollins was also the first major publisher to sell e-books to libraries in January 2003, and launched the first global e-book publishing program in early 2001. The company also was among the first to use webcasts and audio and video content to market its authors.
“I think innovation is absolutely key,” says Friedman. “… Traditionally, we still are a publishing company, and we bring books to the public. But what’s happened is that we must innovate, because different channels of distribution have come up. Obviously, we’re very into the digital space, and have embraced it and have never been frightened of it; but innovation has always been kind of a byword for me,” she continues. “Years ago, I started the audiobook business, I started a Spanish-language publishing imprint, I started to work with the Internet early. I just happen to like doing something that’s a little bit different and out of the ordinary. And I have found at HarperCollins a group of people who feel exactly the same way. So whereas we have respect for tradition, we feel that innovation and futurism … [are] absolutely necessary.”
With each of the company’s experiments comes a willingness to accept that some of those experiments may fail. However, a strong financial footing helps enable the company to take such risks. “It’s fortunate that HarperCollins is part of a major media giant, News Corporation, and we watch and see innovation and risk-taking all the time. Couple that with the fact that we have managed to maintain a very successful financial picture over the last 10 years, and we keep bringing in record profits and growth,” says Friedman. “… I think that … we’re very careful with our money, but we realize that investment is absolutely necessary. So we kind of, you know, roll the dice. But we roll the dice with informed information.”
Building a Community
Before community-building and interactive content were even buzzwords, HarperCollins was taking advantage of both. Its First Look program was launched in October 2003, and provides consumers a chance to win bound galleys of a book’s content several months before the book is published, “and then they provide review content that we put on our site,” explains Pittis. “It’s a very, very popular program,” she says, which now has more than 50,000 members.
The company’s Author Tracker program, which Pittis estimates is 8 years old, enables consumers to sign up to receive automatic e-mail alerts with news and information about their favorite authors, such as alerts about author appearances or forthcoming books. “It’s something that’s been widely emulated,” says Pittis. “Virtually every other publisher followed us in creating a program like that or a capability like that. And we did it even before, I think, Barnes & Noble had anything like that. So, it is an example of where we were doing this stuff a long time ago.”
E-newsletter communication has been and remains a significant part of Harper-Collins’ marketing efforts. Pittis says that more than 1 million people worldwide have signed up for the Author Tracker program. The company also creates “20 to 25 e-newsletters that go out regularly, and about another 10 that go out maybe quarterly,” she adds. The bulk of the enewsletters are primarily imprint- and genre-focused. “It’s something that we’re constantly reviewing and thinking about ways to scale more effectively. So, we’re talking about ways to communicate more effectively with consumers about genre areas, so that we’re automatically notifying people who [for example] have said that they read history books.”
Pittis notes that, collectively, the e-newsletters have a subscriber base of somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 globally. “We are looking to greatly enhance all these programs, as well as build out new programs. We’ve been investing in new digital ways to connect authors with book readers over several years now,” she says.
In fall 2007, the company also launched an AuthorAssistant tool (HarperCollinsAuthors.com), which Pittis talked extensively about during a session at the Publishing Business Conference & Expo. AuthorAssistant is an online application that enables authors to post information, images and links to the company’s author Web site network—a central location for fans to find exclusive information on their favorite authors. Forty authors from HarperCollins’ Avon imprint participated in the pilot program, and the company is now “aggressively rolling out” the AuthorAssistant, says Pittis. “We’re adding authors all the time. There’s a tremendous opportunity to now use this new content that we’re getting through Author Assistant and through Browse Inside in some of these older and bigger membership programs. So, for example,” she continues, “putting more content in the Author Tracker emails; putting more links in the Author Tracker e-mails; making sure that there is a lot more automation and frequency of communication that’s customizable to consumers. So they can say, ‘I want to know right away when an author’s blog is updated,’ or something like that. … These are the kinds of things we’re talking about integrating.”
Connecting consumers frequently with information about authors and providing them with access to book content is already paying off. “We’re seeing great results in increased page views and in viral pass along—25 percent of visitors are telling friends, and 20 percent of our inbound traffic to Browse Inside is coming from viral marketing,” Pittis explains. “If ever there was an age of the superfan in the book business, this is it. Their value is now directly measurable!”
Adhering to Friedman’s and her team’s philosophy on the imperative of “futurism,” with all of its achievements to date, the company is not likely to rest on its laurels, nor on its Publishing Innovator of the Year Award. “There’s a lot more to do in really pulling this together in ways that are valuable to book readers. This is a market that requires experimentation, and we are eager to continue doing that and learning from what we and others do. We’re not done yet,” laughs Pittis.
For a podcast interview with Carolyn Pittis by Christopher Kenneally of the Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book, visit http://beyondthebookcast.com/?p=99