HarperCollins has unveiled plans to expand in the German book market. At the Frankfurt Book Fair, DW's Manuela Kasper-Claridge spoke to CEO Brian Murray about new book formats and their challenges for the US publisher.
DW: Mr. Murray, do you see any new market trends at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair?
Brian Murray: We still see this trend of globalization where rights are being sold of our authors in more and more countries. And also there's this continuing trend of innovation on the digital front. There are more and more places for us to sell e-books and there are new digital business models, subscription models for books, for example, that continue to take off in different markets. So these trends, globalization and digitalization, continue in the book business, and I believe they are very positive trends for both publishers and authors. HarperCollins has been doing everything we can to take advantage of these trends, and providing our authors with new avenues to reach readers around the world.
DW: Does it also make book publishing more difficult?
It's not more difficult, it's more interesting because there are so many new things that we can do, and we have only so many people. So we have to pick… are we going to do A or B? We can't do everything, but we are doing a lot of innovation in trying new things. We learn what works, and when it works we continue to do it for more authors and for more markets. So it's a very exciting time to be in publishing because of this rapid rate of innovation.
DW: Could you describe what you do when you discover good author with a good manuscript. How do you go about publishing it?
We have editors all around the world, and with our recent acquisition of Harlequin we have offices in 15 different countries so that we can now publish in 16 different languages. When we get a good manuscript that comes into one of our offices, we start sharing it with editors in the other offices and we get an assessment as to whether or not this particular book can sell in multiple markets. Then the editors will work on that and not every book travels to other markets. But that editorial conversation begins the process of deciding whether or not we will publish in one market… or only in English, or in many foreign markets as well. We have people all over the world that share their manuscripts, and then if we decide to publish in many markets, then our marketing teams begin to share their ideas about how to market the book to readers.
DW: Is Germany an important market for you?
Germany was Harlequin's largest foreign language market. Now that we've acquired Harlequin, we have announced today (08.10.2014) that we are forming HarperCollins Germany using the team that has been here for some time. We've also announced that we will begin to publish 50 titles in German and in other languages, which is going to be a HarperCollins International List. And reading that list for us is Daniel Silva, who was a New York Times number one bestselling author for HarperCollins. We will also be publishing his books in 16 languages beginning next fall. So that's our big announcement, and we are very excited, we'll be investing in Germany in our publishing capabilities here in trying to grow our business. It's the largest market outside of English that we have. We have big ambitions to get even bigger.
DW: But in Germany you will also have many competitors.
There are many competitors in all international markets. In fact, when we were thinking about ways to enter into Germany, Italy or France you can either build organically… which is very difficult to do because there are so many existing publishers. We decided to acquire Harlequin because then we'd have offices in all these countries. Harlequin has been in Germany for more than 30 years, and they have expertise in the mass market and the women's fiction area. So we plan to use this expertise and then to build and move into general commercial fiction. In a very small way to begin with, but we will hire people to help us editorially and in marketing to realize that potential.
DW: Book prices are fixed here in Germany. Is this an advantage for HarperCollins?
All of the markets are very interesting because they differ. Half of the markets are fixed-price, and half of the markets are not. I know that here the fixed prices have served the German market very well; we've seen some growing particularly on the e-book side. But there is tremendous diversity in retail, which is probably a function of the fixed book prices. So I'm looking forward to learning more about that, most of the English language book markets have not fixed prices. The UK market was years ago, but that has changed. So I have to learn a little bit about fixed prices, but I'm very interested. Generally, I think it does publishers and retailers in Germany very well.
DW: Do you think that printed books still have a chance in the long run?
Absolutely, the print book is not going away. I would point to the US market where the e-book grew the fastest. The e-books were very inexpensive compared with the print books, but despite that we've seen a balancing between the e-books and the print books. There is still growth in e-books but the print book is here to stay forever. It is a terrific gift, it is a terrific format, and I think "print" and "e" can complement one another. That's beginning to happen in the US where there is a nice balancing on the market between formats. We want to give consumers as much choice as possible, we want them to choose if they want an e-book, or a hardback or a paperback; I don't see that changing.
DW: Let's talk about business books. Do you think they are in high demand, and what subject should they cater for?
The business market goes through different cycles. Some of our biggest business books… we've published Jack Welch, we've got a new Jack Welch book coming up, we've published Jim Collins - "Good to Great" continues to sell year in, year out. We've also done Drucker's books (Peter Drucker is an Austrian-born management consultant) going back a long time ago. So, there are certain books that will sell for years and years, some of the books I mentioned are such books, and we sell them into dozens of countries. There is always a need for business managers to understand how to solve a problem, what is the right strategy, how to think about their organization. And books are a terrific format, that long-form narrative is a terrific format to help managers. Twitter, in doing a hundred characters, is not a sufficient way to communicate about how to run a business more effectively. I think books and business books will be here for a long time, but they definitely have cycles where there is maybe a hot book this year that really takes off, and then the next year there might not be as big a market. But they do continue to sell for years.
DW: Is there a business person whose book you would like to publish?
Well, I'm very excited about Jack Welch's book. He had a big success with his last book, and it's been some time since he's published a book. He's been out of General Electric, and he's been working with a lot of startups. I'm very fascinated to read his next book because it's going to bring a perspective of someone who'd been in corporate business and is now working with digital startups. I'm curious to see how he blends the two management philosophies. He's the one I'm most excited about.
Brian Murray has been Chief Executive Officer of HarperCollins Publishers since 2008. He's engineered the acquisition of Toronto-based Harlequin publishing house in May 2014 under efforts to "expand the international footprint" of the New York company.