Corner Office: The Power of ‘One’
In a recent issue of Book Business, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson Inc. was cited as “the most radical example” of a growing trend toward internal consolidation in the book publishing industry (“Embracing the ‘Kindle Effect,’ ” February 2008). The article was referring to the Nashville, Tenn.-based company’s announcement in April 2007 that it was eliminating all 21 of its imprints, and reorganizing its publishing functions around consumer categories—a corporate restructuring it termed the “One Company” initiative.
Michael S. Hyatt, president and chief executive officer of Thomas Nelson, spoke with Book Business about the goals behind the One Company initiative, the impact the restructuring has already had on the publisher, and its recent launch of a full-scale environmental initiative.
● Why was it decided to restructure Thomas Nelson under the One Company initiative?
Michael S. Hyatt: … The imprints were dividing the presence of the Thomas Nelson brand and prohibiting vital collaboration [within the organization]. And, most importantly, the imprints were offering little to the customer. Customers [make] buying decisions not based on imprints, but rather based on authors, categories or current events.
● Since implementing this initiative, what has been the impact on the company?
Hyatt: With [our] year-to-date publishing revenues trending well ahead of last year and current industry trends, Thomas Nelson has experienced solid success with its One Company strategy. In addition, the company has seen improved communication and collaboration within its organization. …
● One of Thomas Nelson’s specific goals under the One Company initiative was to concentrate additional resources on “strong and emerging” categories. What are these categories that you’re hoping to build on?
Hyatt: Thomas Nelson is focused on building on the strength of our Corporate Brands group. With some of the top authors in Christian publishing [in that group], like Max Lucado, John Maxwell, Robin McGraw and Charles Stanley, our growth strategy has been to publish their works in multiple product formats, in multiple sales channels and in multiple languages. [By employing this strategy], we have [already] seen significant growth with these authors. …
A wonderful example of this strategy is Max Lucado’s “3:16.” With the release of the hardcover book last September, we had a simultaneous release in several [other] languages, including … Spanish, Dutch, Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Also, there was an extensive line of formats [such as an audiobook, and children’s and teen editions made] available for readers. …
… Our branding strategy does not end here. Each of our strategic publishing units has identified a few key authors that are [being developed] into brands.
… Also, we are constantly looking to identify and expand our presence in “emerging” categories. [For example,] over the last year, we have seen significant growth in children’s books, family entertainment, and business and culture.
● Thomas Nelson published the first Forest Stewardship Council-certified “green” Bible in October 2007. What has the reaction been so far from your customers?
Hyatt: When we published the first “green” Bible … we had no idea it would be so well-received by both consumers and the media. A growing number of consumers not only seem to be aware of the importance of [the environmental] movement, but also demand products that are eco-friendly.
● The company also recently announced a full-scale environmental initiative (www.ThomasNelson.com/green). How did the company come to these specific environmental goals?
Hyatt: Because our purpose is “to inspire the world,” our employees are constantly looking beyond their everyday jobs for ways to be inspiring. Over the last few years, we have had a growing number of employees who started a grassroots campaign to bring the issue of the environment to the forefront of our minds. They encouraged us to begin recycling programs and to explore ways to produce more eco-friendly books. After meeting with the [nonprofit organization] Green Press Initiative and other environmental groups, we became even more excited. We defined specific action steps. In the summer of 2007, I created an official Environmental Task Force. Its mission is three-fold: to find ways to make publishing a sustainable, ecologically sound and economically viable venture; to implement environmentally friendly publishing standards; and to educate employees on how to live a “green” lifestyle.
● In April, Thomas Nelson will hold its first open house for Christian retailers with speakers, workshops and entertainers. What are your goals for it?
Hyatt: The event was created as a way to strengthen the Christian retail channel. Our hopes are that after attending the Thomas Nelson Open House, Christian retailers will be empowered by a better understanding of industry trends, merchandising strategies and Thomas Nelson products. Also, we hope that they will be renewed in their relationship with other retailers, Thomas Nelson and God. Additionally, our hope is that the open house will allow us to better understand the needs and challenges of the retailers so that we can better serve them.
● What is the biggest challenge you’re facing as president and CEO?
Hyatt: The biggest challenge is to figure out where the market is going. I believe that we are at an important inflection point. I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before technology will shift, and digital publishing will become mainstream. I don’t think this will mean the immediate end of traditional publishing. People are too attached to the physicality of books—particularly people over age 40. However, the handwriting is already on the wall. We must find ways to engage an always-on, Internet-savvy generation with intellectually stimulating, relevant content.