Interview by Daniel Kalder
David Bowers is VP of Global Business Development at Oxford University Press (OUP) is chairing this year’s International Rights Directors Meeting, taking place today—the focus is on the Brazilian market and licensing for apps. Here, Bowers discusses his career, the latest developments in OUP’s digital publishing, and what qualifies someone from a publisher that’s an outgrowth of one of the oldest universities in the world to talk about the latest developments in technology.
“I have worked at OUP for seven and a half years,” says Bowers. “I started as an editorial assistant for our dictionaries. Five years ago I joined the global business development group, where I managed OUP relations in Asia. I became head of the whole group in the summer of 2010.”
Bowers’ experience in Asia was intimately connected with new technologies, he says: “The whole area of global business development is a mix of the traditional rights business—such as granting third party rights to translate or reprint our material, or grant permission to licensees to use select data—with digital licensing, which is rapidly growing. In Asia, many people are dedicated to learning English. Thus we partnered with reputable firms who were creating devices to help people learn English. In Japan for instance, Seiko, Casio, and Sharp all make hand-held devices, such as dictionaries, which contain Oxford content. Also in Asia, we partner with search engines, which contain embedded OUP data.”
Although OUP is an outgrowth of a medieval English university, Bowers stresses that it has been on the cutting edge of publishing technology for a long time:
“The OUP digital experience began in 1982. In 1986, we offered our first CD-ROM. Transatlantic cooperation between Academics and lexicographers in the USA and England resulted in publishing the entire OED on CD-ROM in 1993, and we released our first online product in 2000.”
For OUP, however, technology is only ever a means to an end, which remains unchanged: “The goal is to find a balance between technological progress and our core roots—the dissemination of knowledge across the world. We must adhere to our mission, to publish works that further the university’s objective of excellence in scholarship, research and education.”
OUP receives 11 and a half million hits per month across 30 online products, and 250 journals. Currently 14,000 books in its catalogue are available as e-books, up 3,000 over 2010.
“It is rare that a publisher has technological experts working for them who are adept at inventing new devices. Thus OUP sometimes makes strategic partnerships with those firms that do. For example we work with large Silicon Valley tech firms like Apple, Google, and Microsoft who all build products which help individuals access information. For instance, if you use an iPad to read a book, then you have access to the OED. I mention these names because they are large, hot companies, but in addition we have over 3,000 agreements signed worldwide.”
At Frankfurt, Bowers has two goals. First, he wants to focus on the market for mobile apps, “a hot topic” in publishing, and one that he knows well (Oxford has been licensing data for mobile devices since 2003):
“Look at the explosive growth of the smart phone and the tablet. This raises issues: is an app a way to market other products, or do you sell an app as a new product in its own right? There are also issues of pricing, and how to bring product to market. Publishers don’t have tech teams to build new products, so they have to engage with developers. At Frankfurt we’ll learn about business models for this kind of cooperation. And since this is a meeting of international rights directors, Americans who already know all about these devices will meet with people from territories where these devices are just coming to market, and they can learn from each other.”
The second theme of the meeting is Brazil, which, Bowers stresses is a “very important market”:
“Brazil has an enormous publishing industry. It too is going through changes—last year e-books were just coming to market, but that has changed. This will provide an opportunity to learn about changes and how they impact business.”
“Business development,” says Bowers, is about building trusting relationships. Events like this are great for making connections and developing trust.”
The 25th International Rights Directors Meeting takes place today, October 11, 2011 from 2-5 p.m. in Hall 4.0, Room Europa at the Frankfurt Book Fair