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Winning Non-Fiction Marketing campaign – Becoming: an interview

Amelia Fairney is General Communications Director at Penguin Random house UK. Last month her team won the Book Marketing Society award for Non-Fiction campaign for Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. We wanted to find out a little bit more about the reasons for the success of this campaign.

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Interview with WriteNow mentor Lydia Yadi

WriteNow, Penguin Random House UK’s programme to find, mentor and publish new writers currently under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves, is back for 2017. The world’s number-one publisher is looking for new writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) and BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) writers, or writers with a disability, to make books and publishing more representative of the society we live in. Find out more and apply at www.write-now.live. Applications close on 16 July 2017. Join the conversation using #WriteNowLive @PenguinRHUK. 

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PRH The Scheme

PRH #TheScheme16: Alex Harrison interview

Alex Harrison is a writer and editor with a keen interest in change and disruption in publishing and an insatiable passion for speculative fiction of all stripes. Outside of publishing, he manages the Werewolves of London, the capital’s premier quidditch team (really!) He was recently selected for The Scheme (Penguin Random House), an entry-level programme which aims to attract the marketers of tomorrow and find people with creative talent and potential who may have never considered a career in publishing. Norah Myers finds out more.

1) How did you hear about PRH’s #TheScheme16?

I don’t actually remember. If I had to guess, it’d probably be through Twitter – I follow about eight thousand jobs­in­publishing accounts, and it most likely turned up there. No concrete answer, though!

2) What motivated you to apply for it?

I didn’t have any real expectations of success, so I treated it like any other job opportunity, since I was applying for dozens at the time. Sure, the job sounded amazing, but my experience in applying for publishing jobs is that the better they sound, the more likely your CV will float down into a bottomless HR void and you’ll never hear back. Fun fact: when I made it to the video interview stage, I left it until about a day before the deadline because I thought my chances of making it any further were so low that it almost wasn’t worth the effort. Let’s all take a moment to mock the parallel­universe version of me who made that mistake.

3) Tell us about the assessment process. What did you learn about yourself and about publishing that will be relevant to your work?

The assessment process was, in a word, thorough. We took on everything from cover design to pitching to copy work, which really drove home just how much of a polymath the modern editor has to be. I guess it taught me that I’m better at presentations than I thought, but the real lesson here was that even the most daunting of tasks seems much more manageable when there’s a bowl of jelly babies on the table.

4) What do you hope to gain from #TheScheme16?

By the end of the Scheme, I’d like to have experienced as much of the industry as I can and set myself up for success in the publishing world. Practical knowledge, skills, contacts, friends – I’ll take the lot! I think this is very much the intent of the Scheme: to produce well­rounded editors capable of performing well in any publisher in the world. Not to suggest that I’m planning my exit strategy ­ from what I’ve seen of PRH, I can already safely say I’d happily stay on for many years to come, if I can earn the opportunity. It’s obvious that a lot of time, money, and effort has been invested in the Scheme, and I want to be worth it.

5) What do you hope #TheScheme16 can do to make publishing more diverse and accessible?

I think it’s very much a step in the right direction. Removing the need for degrees, experience, internships, CVs, cover letters, connections, and so on is a fantastic way to really level the playing field. The Scheme seems to be angled at identifying people with great potential, regardless of their background or the opportunities they’ve enjoyed, which is a very important part of what should be a multi­pronged strategy to diversify publishing. The growing number of BAME schemes and internships is really encouraging to see, for instance – the Scheme is aimed at breaking down entry barriers, which is obviously a great thing, but it’s not the one and only solution to the problem. I think the Scheme has done an excellent job at what it set out to do, which was to attract and identify a wide range of people with sky­high potential, and it’s at the forefront of a very positive trend in publishing recruitment.

6) What advice would you give anyone who hopes to apply for Schemes in the future?

Heed the words of Shia Labeouf, and just do it. Craft your application with love and care. Know what you like, know why you like it, and be ready to shout it from the rooftops. Doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about as long as you’re passionate. If you make it to the assessment day, be yourself, because that’s the one thing in the world nobody does as well as you. It might be cheesier than that one time I made macaroni cheese before realising there was no pasta in the house, but it’s true. Throw yourself into every stage of the Scheme, and no matter the outcome, it’ll be a fantastic experience.

Authors marketing

Four players in the book business with the power to rewrite some of the rules

The news came recently that ReaderLink has purchased Anderson News. Those two companies have been the leading suppliers of books to the mass merchandisers: primarily Wal-mart, Target, and Sam’s Club. There are other players selling books in the space, including Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and smaller distributors like the less-well-known American West. But most of the books going to most of the mass merchant accounts have gotten there through what will now be one company supplying them: ReaderLink.

By my count, that puts four companies in the book business who have extraordinarily powerful holds on their space. They are ReaderLink (in the supply of books to mass merchants), Amazon (as an online retailer), Barnes & Noble (as a bricks-and-mortar retailer) and Penguin Random House (as a commercial trade publisher).

ReaderLink, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble now have extraordinarily powerful positions from which to demand better terms from their publisher-suppliers. In all three cases, they have customer bases which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a competitor to take away from them.

Amazon

Amazon has pretty much owned the online book customer since the year they opened for business in 1995. There is a faint hope that fragmentation of the online marketplace and the placement of commerce in the social stream, such as is enabled by Ingram’s Aer.io technology, could wrest some of their share. Perhaps, over time, that will happen. But they keep pulling further ahead of their only real competition, BN.com, and I am not aware of even one single reporting period when Amazon’s share of the online book market hasn’t grown. It is simply not an option for a publisher who wants to sell to consumers to avoid Amazon. (The only way a publisher could conceivably do that is if their customer base is reached entirely by direct sales or through intermediaries outside the book business.)

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble may be losing brick-and-mortar market share to independents, but they remain by far the leading bookstore chain. If a publisher wants books in the retail marketplace, Barnes & Noble has been, since the demise of Borders five years ago, the only one-stop way to get national coverage. In fact, they almost certainly control the majority of bookstore shelf space in the country, and their single biggest competitor, Books-a-Million, has fewer than half as many stores. And B-a-M’s stores are smaller.

ReaderLink

ReaderLink is now in a similar position vis a vis the mass merchants. These stores constitute the other big component of the store retailing system and they are critical for bestsellers, mass-market paperbacks, and “merchandise” like adult coloring books and kids books. In fact, ReaderLink and Anderson lived with what was a “managed competition” controlled by their accounts; they each had stores assigned to them by their mass merchant customers. Publishers have always had to deal with both of them in order to place their books in the mass accounts. And, indeed, it could be that there will be efficiencies to this consolidation that will be beneficial for the publishers. But, if there are, it is also quite likely that ReaderLink will find ways to adjust their terms to take at least some of the benefits back and they are likely to be successful persuading publishers to allow that. (They have also manifestly strengthened their negotiating position with those accounts that are committed to stocking books.)

Penguin Random House

There is a fourth powerful player: Penguin Random House. PRH is almost (but not quite) the size of the other four members of the Big Five combined. As such, they are in a position to do things in the marketplace that no other publisher could contemplate. Since the merger of Penguin and Random House, I’ve written about what they uniquely could do with their marketplace power. The two key suggestions, neither of which has drawn any evident interest from the management at PRH, were a program to supply non-bookstores with vendor-managed inventory (creating store retail accounts nobody else would have) and to create their own ebook subscription service. (That would also create unique distribution.)

Mass-merchant supply

The new combination in mass-merchant supply could suggest another such opportunity. Perhaps this one will be more compelling.

The supply of books to mass merchants, as to any account that is not primarily in the book business and comfortable with both the logistical challenges and relatively low profit potential in books, is complicated, expensive, and usually inefficient. The number of titles that actually make it into these stores is a paltry percentage of the industry’s output. Only the biggest publishers have enough of the right books to really play.

And then the publisher has to cover both the retail accounts that will ultimately sell their books and the distributor-intermediary that supplies them. It will be a bit easier for the big publishers selling books to Wal-mart and Target to manage the business through one big account rather than two (one fewer account to deal with), but it is still a frustratingly inefficient segment of the business. (The one fewer account aspect of this is bound to be causing some nervousness right now in the sales departments of some publishers.) Visibility into inventory status is, relative to the store-level view available at Barnes & Noble, klunky. Returns are high. Responsiveness to breaking events is slow. And the margins are worse than for any other part of the domestic business.

But part of the reason for that is that delivering on the service requirements for these accounts is expensive. One sales executive I spoke to estimated that ReaderLink has more than 2500 detail people calling on the outlets of the mass merchants: checking stock, tidying fixtures, and replacing sold books. No wonder these distributors need hefty margins to do this work. And this also explains why Ingram and Baker & Taylor, who, of course, carry all the titles these merchants would ever need, don’t appear to move aggressively to take this business away from the incumbent(s).

To picture the Penguin Random House options, I try to view this from the perspective of one publisher with about half the books that these mass merchant accounts need. I’m giving away margin to a middle player that adds a layer of inefficiency and cost in order to be an effective aggregator. Obviously, the accounts want that aggregator. They don’t want to deal with hundreds of publishers individually, or even with just each of the Big Five. It would be a non-starter for a publisher supplying five or ten or even twenty percent of their books to say: “can we work out a way to do this directly?” So just about everybody has to accept the inefficiency.

An alternative model

But what about if it were a supplier that provided half the books? And what if that supplier offered, as an opening gambit, to share some of the margin that now goes to the middle player directly with the account? And what if that effectively became the account’s only way to get those books, because the powerful publisher was no longer willing to play ball with the high discounts and high returns that the current system entails?

Only Penguin Random House is in a position to take this approach. And it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do. They’d have to create a VMI system. They’d have to organize a detailing army quite different from the sales force(s) they have created and managed historically. They’d have to either gear themselves up to execute more smaller shipments or form alliances that would make that possible. But the payoffs would also be substantial. And PRH has a much bigger margin share to support their efforts than ReaderLink, or any other wholesaler or distributor, would have.

Sales would go up. Returns would go down. Margins would improve. Their competitors would be weakened. In fact, it is conceivable that, over time, a PRH direct-supply operation could morph into a ReaderLink service that was available to other publishers as well. (All big publishers, including PRH, already offer their core distribution services to competitors. This would be a variation on that theme.)

Perhaps Penguin Random House will never behave in a qualitatively different way than the other Big Five houses, exercising power that they uniquely have. They certainly haven’t so far. On the other hand, it was pointed out to me recently that the integration of what were the two biggest publishers among the Big Six when Random House and Penguin combined four years ago is, even today, not yet complete. Rationalization has occurred in the “back end”, with the consequent job losses which are part of the payoff for the owners in any big merger of this kind. But more consolidation is still in front of them, and perhaps the radical paradigm-shifting initiatives need to wait until that job is really done.

And perhaps Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and now ReaderLink are wary of poking the bear, and are less demanding that PRH honor their primacy with margin than they are of PRH’s competitors. In fact, the CEO of one of their Big Five competitors told me a year or two ago that he liked having a competitor of PRH’s size on the publisher side because this executive felt it kept the overall industry terms under control. The belief on this CEO’s part was that PRH’s size restrained the big accounts to the benefit of all the big players.

But unlike Amazon or Barnes & Noble, whose businesses can not be efficiently replaced by any direct effort, the supply of mass merchant accounts is something PRH could conceivably do better on their own. Whether the acquisition of Anderson by ReaderLink provides the catalyst to get them to try it is something it will probably take a couple of years to find out.

Although Ingram occupies a unique position in the global book supply chain and, indeed, might be the single most important player, they aren’t in the position of these other four to exercise power. In wholesaling, they have always had a powerful national competitor, Baker & Taylor, which is now even more financially stable having itself been acquired by Follett. Even in smaller-publisher distribution, where Ingram grew dramatically by acquiring Perseus, they will always have all the big publishers and a host of smaller distributors as alternatives for those considering their services. Indeed, Ingram could try to compete with ReaderLink for the mass merchant accounts, but they’d have to support the substantial systems and staff investments on a distribution margin, which is a much more challenging proposition than it would be for PRH with the publisher’s margin.

Mike Shatzkin has been in publishing since 1962. Since 1979, Mike has been an independent consultant (The Idea Logical Company) with clients that have included most major publishers in the US and UK, retailers including Barnes & Noble and Borders, wholesalers including Ingram, and a host of tech startups. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeShatzkin. This post was originally posted on The Idea Logical Company blog in May 2016.

social

The business of books: social selling

At the London Book Fair’s Quantum conference last month I listened to Aissetou Ngom talk about Penguin Platform, the young adult brand which she manages. She revealed that market research on the design of the new website had produced something of a surprise: there shouldn’t be a ‘website’ in the traditional sense at all. ‘That feels kind of old-fashioned,’ was the general response from the teens they talked to. So Penguin Platform inhabits the social web: Tumblr is its main home, with offshoots on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. (And if you’re a publisher and you’ve been congratulating yourself on finally getting your website sorted, I’m sorry.)

Might online bookstores one day become equally passé? The social web is where we share ideas and consume content, and increasingly it’s where we purchase, too.

In the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast this week I talk to Marcus Woodburn, Vice President Digital Products at Ingram Content Group, about Aer.io, their new social selling tool (Ingram was an early investor in Aerbook, which became Aer.io, and acquired the start-up at the end of 2015). I am hugely excited about this, and I don’t think most publishers have quite realized how it could revolutionize the book supply chain.

Aer.io makes any touchpoint on the web a sales opportunity. An author can embed a buy button in a tweet, for example. Yes, we’ve had Amazon ‘buy now’ widgets for years, but an Amazon widget sends your customer straight to Amazon. Aer.io’s button keeps the ownership of the transaction with you, which means you get your customer’s data. Which means if you’re smart you can sell more stuff to them in future. This is game-changing.

Publishers large and small are queuing up for this (it’s live in the US but delayed in the UK and Europe owing to our Byzantine tax and data protection laws – Marcus promises it should be live here by the middle of the year), as are independent authors and retailers. Authors I understand, I say, but retailers? Sure they must hate this? No, says Marcus: they see an opportunity to carry vastly more inventory than they can stack on their shelves, and to sell ebooks, which has always been problematic.

That makes sense: when I was building a direct-to-consumer model in traditional publishing years ago, ebook fulfilment was a huge problem: for most publishers it was easier simply to point customers in the direction of Amazon or other ebook retailers to deal with the nitty gritty of different formats, different devices, DRM and technical support. But with Ingram’s massive ebook and print infrastructure behind it, Aer.io can deliver print and any ebook format in the same basket. Nice. Basically if a book is in the Lightning Source print-on-demand catalogue (which includes IngramSpark for indies), it’s deliverable via Aer.io.

The possibilities are infinite – you can create a custom button for a channel (a promotional link from a speaker biography page, or an email to course participants) to deliver a bespoke version of a book. You can also customize how much of the book is included in the preview, so if your aim is visibility rather than revenue, you can be generous in what’s discoverable and viewable before purchase.

I should make it clear I have no financial interest here, and I’m not acting as an affiliate. I’m just genuinely excited about a technology that can help readers discover and buy books more easily, and which creates a more interesting and diverse book retail ecosystem.

As Marcus says: ‘Every time we sit down with a publisher they have a different way they’re thinking of using it.’

I’ve got some ideas of my own, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

audiobooks

Penguin Random House on audiobooks: Hannah Telfer interview

Last week Penguin Random House announced that it’s establishing its audio business as a standalone division, Penguin Random House UK Audio. Here we interviewed Hannah Telfer, MD Audio and Group Director of Consumer & Digital Development, on what’s new and next for audiobooks at Penguin Random House UK.

1) What exactly is the new audio division?

Audio was the fastest growing part of our Penguin Random House UK business in 2015. We had a record year with publishing highlights including our biggest-ever selling audio download with The Girl On The Train and fastest-ever selling title with YouTubers Dan and Phil’s The Amazing Book is Not on Fire.

In May 2015 Penguin Random House UK became the global exclusive publishers of BBC Audio, publishing audiobooks from the bestselling and award-winning drama, comedy and landmark factual programmes from the BBC Radio network and archives.

In total, we sold more than 30 million hours of audio and we know we can sell more.

By launching as a standalone division – Penguin Random House UK Audio – we will have one unified audio strategy across Penguin Random House UK with our expert audio team working hand-in-hand with their publishing colleagues – which is great news for our authors and our readers.

As the UK’s number 1 audiobook publisher, we capture the benefit of this market for our authors and for the stories and ideas we are privileged to publish.

2) As a new department, what problem is being solved?

In a noisy world, audiences are discovering the pleasure of listening. Audiences are discovering the delight of being transported to new worlds, of experiencing new ideas, of hearing new voices.

At Penguin Random House, we believe there is alchemy to publishing audiobooks; that their magic is unlocked through the care with which they are produced.

We are expert here.

From the earliest possible conversations with authors and editors, we cast our audiobooks thoughtfully. The production of an audiobook is an intense and focused process. It’s intimate. We are uniquely placed to build on the intensity of the experience between author and editor and understand the story behind the story.

We find readers who will shine a light on the story. This can be the authors themselves, it can be actors, and it can be celebrities.

And we promote our audiobooks. From the fabulously successfully Penguin Podcast hosted by Richard E Grant, to our audience and author led campaigns, we are finding new and imaginative ways to market our books and partner well with our retailers.

3) Who is the target market?

Audiobooks are important because they reach distinct audiences and the spectrum is significant. Different audiences are growing the market. The profile of audiobook listeners in the UK is young and men are more likely to listen regularly than women.

Audiobooks over-index among BAME readers. This is critical for our industry. Audio has the potential to reach a more diverse audience than physical books and ebooks

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

At Penguin Random House Audio we are ambitious.

We are ambitious about integrating audio into our publishing strategies – to tell our stories well.

We are ambitious about pushing the boundaries of audiobooks – to seeking new listeners for our authors

We believe Audio can be a vanguard for books in a world of entertainment.

5) What will be next for Penguin Random House UK audio after this?

Watch – or should that be listen to – this space.

Hannah Telfer is responsible for consumer insight, group marketing & audience development, digital publishing & product development and the Penguin Random House UK’s Audio business. Prior to this she was Director, Digital Marketing and Digital Product Development at The Random House Group leading an award-wining programme of digital publishing and marketing.

The next 5 years of publishing: on connecting audiences to stories [OPINION]

In the run up to tonight’s event, Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine has been featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Nicola Borasinski. Nicky is the Digital Development Assistant at Penguin Random House. She is a former MA student at Queen Mary University of London. During her MA she focused her research on the relationship children have with print and digital media and is currently working on digital products for amazing brands like Peppa Pig and Roald Dahl. 

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Publishing

Publishing: the next 5 years [OPINION]

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Ami Greko. Ami recently relocated from working for Goodreads in New York to working for Penguin Random House in London. Outside of the office she founded Book Camp NYC, an unconference for publishing types, and co-created a soup zine (called Stock Tips) that was well over-funded on Kickstarter. 

In the next five years, I think we’ll see a wildly successful book-ish tech startup. I don’t mean a startup oriented around books. I mean a publishing startup created by and for those of us with towering stacks of books taking over every flat surface of the home.

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consumer insight book sales

How to use consumer insight to improve book sales [INTERVIEW]

This is a guest post from Louise Vinter. Louise  is Head of Consumer Insight at Penguin Random House UK, having previously held the role at Random House. She leads a team of consumer insight specialists in delivering research and insight to support all parts of the business. Louise started her career as a political opinion pollster at MORI and worked in audience research at the BBC before moving to publishing in 2011.

1. What exactly is Consumer Insight and how does it fit into the rest of the publishing model?

At Penguin Random House UK our publishing strategies are shaped by a happy marriage of publisher instinct, insight and the conversations we have every day with readers, and underpinned by a wealth of data, analytics, and the collective expertise of our analysts, digital and marketing teams.

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Penguin Random House launches My Independent Bookshop

My Independent BookShop

Penguin Random House today launched My Independent Bookshop, a combination social network and e-commerce platform that hopes to benefit independent booksellers whilst providing a virtual counterpart to browsing their shelves. The site allows users to create their own ‘bookshops’, selecting 12 titles they would recommend to others and giving them space to tell other users why, hoping to capture the feeling of a personal recommendation that might be found in brick and mortar bookshops, outside of the standard Amazon algorithms. Those 12 titles can be rotated as often as desired, and the bookshop containing them can also be personalised to users’ own tastes.

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