publishingLast week’s The Bookseller’s FutureBook conference sparked some interesting publishing comments from HarperCollins UK CEO Charlie Redmayne.

The comments show some publishers still don’t get it.

The story begins with an interview in The Guardian, previewing Redmayne’s remarks and it started strong. In essence, Redmayne looked to empower publishes to do more rather than rest on what’s in the digital publishing world now.

But the first sentence in his quote took aback many readers, authors and others.

“Publishers have historically been the most innovative and creative of organizations,” he said. “But I think that when it came to the digital revolution we came to a point where we stopped innovating and creating. We thought, we’ve done an e-book and that is what it is.”

Interesting, indeed.

I’m curious by what he means by innovative. Beyond e-books, what has the innovation been in the last 50 years? In fact, since e-books came along, I would argue that smaller publishing houses (because he talking about the bigwigs of the publishing world) and authors who published their own work are looking at ways to innovate and change the publishing world.

Self-publishing has changed many of the rules in the publishing game with authors controlling their own content and the rights to do what they want.

Redmayne recognizes this and goes on to say in The Guardian article.

“Have others stolen a march on us? Yes, absolutely. There are now people competing with us who five or 10 years ago were not on our radars … My predecessor used to say publishers are becoming digital content developers. I always used to think she ought to add that digital content developers are becoming publishers.”

To me, there is a bigger problem. Rather than jumping out doing different things, big publishing houses allowed smaller entities to give authors what they wanted. They listened and created a marketplace with better rules – ability to control content, data from book sales, quicker payment times and faster launch dates.

None of these things were particularly innovative. But some companies such as Smashwords and Amazon listened and put a product people were willing to spend money on. There aren’t altruistic ideas – companies are in it to make money. But if you do it in a way that is possible for small indie publishing houses and authors to make money while still maintaining control, of course, they are going to look at different avenues.

The best thing he said came at his speech at the The Bookseller’s FutureBook conference when he said:

“How do we add value in a marketplace where value is always changing? How do we respond when authors are becoming publishers, when retailers are becoming publishers, when now even agents are becoming publishers? We must go out and do things before they are asked of us. We must stop being reactive and start being proactive.”

It’s true. Stop looking at what your competitors are doing and stop playing catch up. Go out there, listen to the authors and develop a company the way that will appeal to the consumer.

There is competition now. When the publishing houses were the only players in the game, they could create the rules that favored the house. However, content creators now have options, which seem like a big, scary thing to Redmayne – and it should be.


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