You used to work in Waterstones, where you had a pivotal role in what was promoted and endorsed by the brand throughout the country. Do you think bricks-and-mortar retailers can have that kind of influence over taste any more?
Not as much, no. There was a period of time when we could put pretty much any book in the 3 for 2 and sell a few hundred at the very least, often thousands. It was an offer that could transform the sales of a book. One of the reasons for that was the offer itself, which was like crack cocaine for book lovers, and I do think most customers miss it, but another was that the books would be supported by every branch. Nowadays it is rare for any new book outside of the real top sellers to be available in every branch of a given bricks-and-mortar chain.
Individual bookshops and individual booksellers can, of course, have great influence over what their customers read but I think the days of a book chain influencing what the nation reads are long gone. More’s the pity.
You look after Authonomy within HarperCollins. What is the process of getting an editor within the organisation to engage with something that has become successful on that site ?
It will differ from editor to editor and imprint to imprint. Some are actively checking out Authonomy for potential acquisitions and others are, quite understandably, busy with their own lists. The Avon imprint, for example, are huge supporters of Authonomy and have signed up yet another author from there, Kat French, on a three-book deal.
But we need to revamp Authonomy and improve its ranking system – something I have been very open about with the community – in order to get more editors engaged with it. I am pretty excited about that as our new version of the site is not too far away.
The Friday Project has always looked to challenge the conventions of traditional publishing. How different have you found it operating within a large corporate publisher as opposed to as an independent start-up ?
Well, I get paid now, which is nice. Also, the economies of scale make it easier to deliver a successful book. HarperCollins have been incredibly tolerant of what we do and allowed us the freedom to try out different stuff, so I can’t complain.
We’ve seen PRH buy Author Solutions and many publishers around the world enter partnerships with mega-online service providers such as Createspace. How do you think those relationships will evolve ?
It used to be that traditional publishers handled all the books that mattered, all the books that sold. Now there is a substantial chunk of the market, the self-published chunk, that publishers have no control over, so it is inevitable that they will look at ways to get involved. And I think that can work. Although there are successful self-published authors who are happy to remain so, most would welcome a traditional deal and as publishers engage more in that world we’ll see more partnerships emerging.
Would more publishing companies benefit from adopting a more ‘start-up’ mentality, and if so, how ?
I think many of them do in certain areas. I know HarperCollins actively encourages and supports that sort of thinking and many others will do likewise. Of course, there are lots of old school publishers doing things they way they always did but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key is that both approaches need to work alongside each other, and I don’t think that’s impossible by any means.
How should corporate publishers react to Hugh Howey’s Author Reports and the debate that surrounds it?
Was any of it really a surprise? I cannot imagine there is a publisher who didn’t know this already. I think he should be applauded for exploding the debate but I am pretty sure most publishers already have strategies in place and are using all manner of data, both direct and assumed, to drive those strategies. It’s a sexy debate, though, and it gets tongues wagging.