What’s a Book?

HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray
HarperCollins CEO Brian Murray

As NYU’s  Summer Publishing Institute shifted from magazines to books this week, the conversation migrated from mutterings about the death of print to questions about what, really, is a that  rich content that once resided between covers. In his keynote address, Brian Murray, President and  CEO of Harper Collins, pointed out that there  are more than one million dedicated e-readers out there and that the “rate of change is picking up”. We will all soon be a click away from buying books, Murray predicted, and noted that the point of purchase will be in our pockets through mobile devices and other technology waiting to be developed. “It’s the publishers’ job to manage this transition,” he cautioned. “We don’t want Microsoft or Google to do it for us. We need to find new partners and better ways of reach the online consumer. After all, publishers have deep pockets. We are used to investing in warehouses and other forms of business. Now we need to invest in new technology.”

Some recent innovations are already coming to market, noted Murray, like the new digital media platform called Symtio: in late summer or fall, you’ll be able to pick up a pin-enabled card at your local superstore and go home and download a book embedded with video and other interactive content. Murrays praises this as a great way to “gift” a digital book and allow publishers to get books into the hands of consumers even faster.

Other advances he  anticipates in the near future?

  • Crowd sourcing to improve upon the original product
  • Guidebooks where consumers upload reviews and pictures.
  • Cookbooks where consumers upload their tweaks to the recipe.
  • Pay-as-you-go, chapter-by-chapter book sales.
  • Digital editions sold as rough cuts or “betas”
  • Experiential products that bundle together book, audio, video for sale in a storefront.

Clearly excited about these new advances, Murray also highlighted new sites like Harper’s Authonomy, still in beta, where beginning, unpublished and self-published authors can upload a manuscript and get noticed and ranked by other writers–and hopefully agents and publishers. HarperCollins editors read and comment on the five top-ranked books each month.

Crowd-sourcing, community publishing is clearly the wave of the future—just another way that old print and paper model is gaining a new life and identity. As Murray puts it: “We need to rethink and re-imagine what is a book.”

by Andrea Chambers

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