The Corner Office: A ‘Professional’ Approach to Multiformat Publishing
Philip Ruppel and McGraw-Hill Professional (MHP)—the publishing company for which Ruppel serves as president—arrived early to the digital party, participating in many initial e-book launches, such as the Rocket eBook e-reader in 1998, and adapting MHP's internal structure for a print-digital integration years prior to the current e-explosion. Today, the company—which is part of The McGraw-Hill Cos. and includes four core publishing programs: McGraw-Hill Business, Medical, Technical and Education—offers more than 5,000 books in e-book format, has produced more than 120 mobile apps, and continues to experiment with new digital offerings.
For example, in April 2010, the publisher introduced a new line of e-books called Selected Essentials—50- to 100-page original works by MHP authors. Some Selected Essentials are sold exclusively through Amazon's Kindle Store, while other titles are exclusive to Barnes & Noble's Nook Store, with each retailer promoting its respective titles.
However, even for an early digital adopter such as MHP, rapidly advancing technologies and a book marketplace in flux still present many business challenges and new publishing waters to navigate. Ruppel spoke with Book Business about these challenges and what he believes are the keys to keeping pace with a shifting book publishing landscape.
● What is your biggest challenge right now as president of a major publisher?
Philip Ruppel: The biggest challenge for me—and I imagine for other publishers as well—is the very rapid migration from print to digital. At McGraw-Hill, we foresaw this trend years before, so our systems, processes and content are very much adapted for the new digital world. But even so, the speed at which our customers are demanding information in digital format versus print format is dramatic. And that speed has broad implications for many parts of our business. The print book is not dead, but we need to be flexible enough to respond to new digital opportunities.
With the migration to digital come further challenges, such as how to keep pace with enhancements in technology, new uses of digital content and talent management. Technology is changing at a very rapid pace. We are seeing enhancements to existing devices and the introduction of new apps appearing at breakneck speed. For a large organization like McGraw-Hill, how do you keep pace with these developments? The answer is to cultivate an entrepreneurial mind-set and an innovation culture within the organization. … We knew we had to experiment with the app community. And not all the apps are hits. Some are clearly better than others. But the knowledge and experience we gained in building these with our partners is invaluable.
In the new digitally focused organization, attracting talent that is comfortable with a digital agenda is equally challenging. … Finding people who are comfortable with moving a digital program forward, where the rules are being written as we speak, that's the challenge.
● How have you determined which titles to offer as apps, and what has been the customers' response?
Ruppel: … What we found was that the more functional apps, the ones that deliver real value and help in the workflow, are the ones that sell—regardless of price. Seems logical now, but this wasn't so clear a year ago.
We now understand what customers respond to—and what they will pay for—and we are adjusting our app development with this in mind. For McGraw-Hill, medical content continues to be strong in this environment, and test prep and certification is also strong.
● What is MHP's e-book strategy?
Ruppel: [We] participated in many of the early e-book launches well over a decade ago. … Our philosophy then and now is that we need to be part of these ventures. And so, when the e-book business really started to gain traction about two to three years ago, we were well-positioned to be a major player. … Our content was, for the most part, in the right format. We had worked out any rights issues years before in our contracts. We had built a robust content management system whereby we could supply distributors with files when and where they needed them.
So today, we have over 5,000 books in e-book format. … Books that are printed now should have an e-book released near the publication date, if not before. Where we can, we want all of our books to be available as an e-book.
… Our customers are very comfortable with reading a book in both print and digital formats. In fact, many of our customers—most of whom are professionals, in business—have been accessing and reading content on computer screens for years.
● Do you see MHP's e-book revenue growing significantly in the next year? Five years?
Ruppel: This year in particular—with the release of a number of high-profile devices [such as] new Kindles from Amazon, Barnes & Noble's Nook and the iPad—we are seeing growing sales and distribution of our [e-books]. In fact, some of our better-selling business books are seeing nearly as many [e-books] sold in a given week as [print books]. We continue to see overall growth on a week-to-week basis, and so … I can only imagine [that] will continue.
With new devices proliferating and new channels to sell the devices increasing, the e-reader or tablet computer will become ubiquitous. And when we start to see as many tablets or devices as laptops or smart phones, I think the size of the e-book opportunity for publishers will be tremendous.
In 5 years, who can say? I imagine by 2015, we will experience growth as a result of a technology we can't imagine today.
● Why the decision to launch Selected Essentials, and how are they selling so far?
Ruppel: Selected Essentials was also an experiment in creating content for a specific channel and/or customer. These were shorter e-books written by some of our best-selling authors in the self-help and business space. We—and our authors—liked the idea of creating a special custom book for particular [audience niches] and [benefiting] from the additional marketing … that would be put behind the book. … Like everything, some are selling better than others, but we saw that when you promote a product, you sell more copies—not exactly rocket science.
● How has MHP integrated print and digital in terms of the company's infrastructure?
Ruppel: [It] has been easier than I would have imagined. This is because we have been moving to a digital production platform for years. … Today, everything is handled in a digital environment, from manuscript delivery to online editing, page makeup and file delivery to the printer.
● In what area(s) will you be investing most heavily in 2011?
Ruppel: … We will continue to build our capabilities in the digital arena, whether in new product development or marketing or sales. It is still an emerging opportunity for all of us, but we know we need to be market leaders. And market leadership requires investment—in technology and in people. BB
Don't miss Philip Ruppel and an all-star panel of industry innovators at the "Executive Roundtable" keynote event during the Publishing Business Conference & Expo, April 4-6, 2011, in New York. Visit PublishingBusiness.com to register or for more information.