5 questions for Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey Group [INTERVIEW]

Rebecca Smart

The Osprey Group is an international publishing group with a digital success record that many larger publishers would envy. They publish under three brands: Osprey Publishing, Shire Books and Angry Robot. FutureBook award-winning Rebecca Smart, their CEO, has been recognised for her pioneering attitude and her leadership skills – now she shares some savvy thinking with BookMachine.


1. You were named ‘most inspiring digital person’ and Osprey Group is going from strength to strength under your management – could you share any top tips from 2012 for digital success?

I was completely surprised when I won the FutureBook award, partly because I haven’t actually talked that much about digital; I’ve talked about change and about how we use our niche philosophy to help us reach readers via whatever channel suits them best. Our focus is customer first, content second, delivery mechanism (i.e. digital or print) third. We’re all about creating communities of readers who come back to buy our books again and again. Digital is now just another way we deliver what our readers want.


2. How important do you think it is for publishers to be open about their learning, especially in such a competitive environment?

It is tricky to share in a competitive environment, but I think we sometimes overestimate how sensitive our information is. Clearly there are some things that cannot be said, but I wish publishers would begin to share sales data for digital products, for example – I can’t see how this would compromise any individual company vs. the competition, and it is desperately needed to overcome the ‘wild west’ guessing and crazy percentages that are thrown around.


3. Did hosting the BookMachine event in Oxford help with this kind of knowledge sharing (aside from the usual publishing gossip and drinking!)?

Absolutely, yes. In fact, events like BookMachine are more important than big conferences for learning and sharing – I think the informal setting (and the wine) helps people relax and feel that they can talk more openly.


4. The Clonefiles initiative – bundling DRM-free electronic editions with Angry Robot print novels – has been hailed a great success. Can you tell us about the thinking behind the idea? Are you hoping that it will have broader implications?

This initiative came out of a conversation with an independent bookseller in our area (Mostly Books in Abingdon, Oxfordshire – if you’re in the area visit the shop, it’s wonderful). They were really keen to start experimenting with bundling and Angry Robot was delighted to support them by offering the ebook free when a customer purchases the print edition. The result has been particularly pleasing for them not because of the increase in sales (yes, they have trebled, but off a low base) but because it has enabled them to engage in conversation with their customers about ebooks. Where previously customers had been embarrassed to talk about what they read in which format for fear of offending the shop staff, now they are able to talk freely and make the retailer part of their regular reading habits – this, I think, has huge implications for the future of bricks-and-mortar bookselling.


5. Osprey Group is continuing to grow – what’s coming up in the future?

We’ve just acquired Duncan Baird Publishing and Watkins, which take us into the areas of mind, body, spirit, and food and nutrition. There will be lots of new projects in these areas so watch this space. In Spring 2013 we will be launching our crime imprint, Exhibit A (exhibitabooks.com), together with a new Osprey imprint, Osprey Adventures (‘there is a line where fact and fiction meet, and that is the domain of Osprey Adventures’) which will explore myths and legends.

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