Editorial from Frankfurt: Why We Can’t Afford to Stand Still

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Perspectives

In the latest “Global Survey of Book Publishing,” published by industry consultant Rüdiger Wischenbart, Pearson topped the list of the world’s largest publishers and was followed by Reed Elsevier, Thompson Reuters, Wolters Kluwer, Random House, Hachette Livre, McGraw-Hill Education, Grupo Planeta, and Cengage. According to Wischenbart, the top 10 companies account for more than half of the total industry valued at somewhere north of 100 billion euros.

HarperCollins is a “Big Five” American trade publisher, albeit one that has been almost exclusively focused on the English-language markets. As such, it may not be near the top of the list (trade publishing is in global decline, says Wischenbart) but, it must be noted, it is near the top in another important ranking: company profits have increased dramatically over the past year. The continued global success of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, a book that was originally published by HarperCollins in 2011, is one reason, but surely there’s more to it than that.

Brian Murray, HarperCollins CEO and President, attributed at least some of the firm’s success to its willingness to try out new things and make mistakes. It was one of the first major U.S. publishing companies to sign on with the then-nascent e-book subscription services (yesterday announcing it had just signed on with Russia’s Bookmate.ru) and has backed experiments, from the Espresso Book Machine to book bundling.

“We lean in,” said Murray at yesterday’s CEO talk. “The world is getting more complex when it comes to books and authors. In this day and age, where companies come up overnight with billion dollar valuations and want to get into the book business, you can’t afford to stand still. You have to be at the forefront and try new things.”

Try new things, experiment, make mistakes, lean in. It’s not what you’d necessarily expect to hear from one of the world’s largest publishing companies. But it does serve as a gentle reminder that, in a publishing world where so many headlines are grabbed by start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, and publishing visionaries who proclaim the “end of this . . . ” and the “death of that . . . ” traditional, or legacy publishers, are evolving; they’re not standing still.

And when they’re good at what they do, they even know how to make money, too.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.