Where Book Publishers Can Find More Digital Talent

Can publishers develop the skills they need to survive in a digital world–social marketing, search engine optimization, app development–from within their companies, or do they have to hire from outside the industry?
In a Publishers Launch Conferences panel moderated by Lorraine Shanley, principal of book industry consulting and executive recruitment firm Market Partners International, publishers said their biggest challenge is learning how to market directly to consumers. Here’s how some different publishers are addressing that gap.
Some of the learning and development can happen within companies but they houses have to be savvy about creating these opportunities and learning from other industries. Publishers don’t all have to acquire app development companies–as Random House did a couple weeks ago when it bought Smashing Ideas–though in some cases it might not hurt.
Joe Mangan, COO of Perseus Books Group, said that as publishers have moved to the agency model (in which they set their own prices for e-books and the “agent,” usually the retailer, receives a commission on each sale), they have realized that they know very little about pricing books to consumers. “Online retailers were repricing books every two or four hours,” he said. Perseus made a major effort to amass their titles’ pricing data and found that their IT teams could analyze it in-house.
But Mangan said that improving digital marketing and discoverability required social networking skills from outside Perseus. The company brought in consultants to teach them about how the magazine and music industries are using social media to drive discovery.
Charlie Redmayne, EVP and Chief Digital Officer of HarperCollins, said the company is conducting internal training and hiring outside consultants. And News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), HarperCollins’ parent company, is launching an in-house marketing training program that will start out in the UK, then move abroad.
“NYC has become a real software town,” said Peter Kay, W. W. Norton Director of Digital Marketing and Strategy. “The publishing industry tends to breathe its own fumes. Go to Meetup.com, find a software group, get to know people outside our business–New York City is filled with hundreds of people who will become our partners at some point. Taking classes is great, but we now live in a town where you can get to know that semantic search genius and he’s actually down in the Flatiron District. Knowing the people and the right questions to ask is the best thing [publishers] can do.”
As for acquiring companies that specialize in these outside skills, panel participants were torn. “Our content is going to be consumed in the app stores, so we need to be able to produce apps,” said Redmayne. The question is whether to buy talent or hire it. “Random House has obviously gone the buy route. We’ve looked at the idea of buying but the minute you buy a business like [Smashing Ideas], you destroy much of the value of it because you won’t let another publisher work with it. From my perspective it’s better to hire that skill set.” He said HarperCollins is building an in-house app studio, “otherwise we get disintermediated.”
“It was smart because of their children’s business,” Kay said. “If Knopf bought an app studio, I’d be chuckling. But it was a smart move. They’ll probably make a lot of money off it.”
Publishers Launch Conferences is a series launched by Michael Cader and Mike Shatzkin. The events are co-located with major industry events like BEA and the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs, but programming and ticketing are separate.