A&C Black

Author Services In The Light Of Penguin’s Purchase

I started this post back in April, I REALLY wish I’d published it then! Following Penguin’s acquisition of Author Solutions (DBW, The Bookseller) I’ve reworked it somewhat and added a few ideas around that move.

It all started at the London Book Fair this year, an event which brought to the fore for me questions over what will happen to publishers during this radical digital shift? A number of times, either as part of a conversation or in response to questions about the publisher role in the future, I spoke about Author Services or as I prefer to think of it, changing the editorial department from a cost centre to a profit and revenue centre.

But what does that really mean? Well it turns out that in the background several companies have been thinking about exactly that. Some companies have been busy creating product suites that cater to the diverse needs of authors.

A really good example of someone who is moving into the space in a measured and clever way is Bloomsbury through their  Writers & Artists Yearbook site. What was once  a staid old handbook of contacts has, over the last number of years, been recast as something entirely different, something very impressive.

The property was acquired as part of the A&C Black acquisition is also home to a number of other print products that have since transitioned fairly nicely to digital or represent an impressive list for future transition (the company has a fascinating history, worth reading, here).

What they offer ranges according to what you think you need from the very beginning of the process (you can get a book idea assessed for only £119.99) to the end of it (a meet the agent, beat the rejection pile meeting for £199). The one thing they don’t yet offer is actual help with self publishing, but that is a fairly simple step beyond what they currently offer.

The big opportunity is not so much to draw in new content from those who might otherwise self publish, but rather to create viable and real businesses from the editorial (and I suppose the production) departments that currently cost so much money.

Offerings like that at Writers & Artists Yearbook and their existing and future competitors will, I suggest, probably form the front end of the editorial departments of many publishers when the transition is complete. It is entirely possible that they will be independent entities or only loosely aligned with publishers, but it is equally possible that at some point, a vast transfer of staff will happen that sees the editorial department of a publisher shifting towards the newly created services units.

Imagine how it would be if Penguin was to reshape its business so that Author Solutions (or whatever it is renamed) provided the editorial resources (staffed no doubt by Penguin editors) to Penguin as one client among many (perhaps with privileges the others don’t have) it would change the way the company thinks of editorial services.

If all publishers decided to take that radical step (and I admit right now it IS radical), it would enable publishers to subsidize new titles by generating revenue on what have been traditionally expensive services to provide. Of course it would certainly change the way everyone thinks of that department and would probably lead to some resentment both within those departments and between the authors who were made to pay for them and the lucky authors who publishers felt were safe enough bets to invest in themselves.

I think we are only at the beginning of this re-shaping of publishers but the first big change we are seeing is in how we think about the editorial department (though some changes are hitting home hard in sales and marketing too).

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Yet Another Bloomsbury Property Goes Digital

There’s a paragraph on Bloomsbury’s Strategy page on their website that always grabs me. It reads:

A key element to Bloomsbury’s strategy is to broaden the base on which it acquires and exploits intellectual property. This began in 1994 with retaining paperback rights and moving into children’s publishing. With the advent of the internet, the company identified a growing demand for quality on-line reference content which culminated in the development of our first major database, The Encarta World English Dictionary.

The reason it grabs me is that you can see the company put that paragraph into action very regularly. The latest is Reeds Nautical Almanac from their A&C Black division (the location of some of their most interesting properties).

I wrote before about Bloomsbury that:

It further occurs to me that nearly all the moves place them in a position to exploit the brand potential of all these properties and to do that through new digital avenues if and when they choose to

That still holds true and when you check the site out, you do begin to wonder why it wasn’t done before, but that’s not the point. This is strategy in action before our eyes. What’s more, it’s a sensible strategy that’s moving physical products and customers towards digital models in an un-hyped way.

It shows the value of intellectual property that has something that can be made available as an online service as well as a print product. Sure it brings its own worries and concerns, but it also offers opportunities and real hope for a future for publishing and publishers.

Maybe it should be more hyped! Or maybe more publishers should copy them!
Eoin

Wisden Logo

Wisden: Another Clever Bloomsbury Brand

Wisden Logo
Bloomsbury has featured on these pages a number of times. To my mind, too much of the focus on Bloomsbury is about Potter and Rowling. When I’ve been interested in Bloomsbury it is generally for their clever acquisitions and what I perceive as a well developed but poorly reported strategy for acquiring valuable and sustainable brands that have digital potential.

The announcement yesterday that Wisden their cricket imprint (which is part of the A&C Black group of imprints) will expand its offering (relatively slowly) into other sports seems like a great example of just that strategy.

So long as the extension is done with some common sense, the very string image of Wisden should be able to sustain this move. I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes for them,
Eoin