Good Reads, Smart Readers: A New View of E-Books

Jane Friedman at SCPS-NYU Center for Publishing

“To be a success, you only have to be right 51% of the time,” said former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman about her publishing career, past and future. Friedman was speaking to an audience of graduate students, alumni, and faculty of NYU-SCPS Center for Publishing. Publishing heavyweights such as Michael Cader, creator of Publishers Marketplace; Peter Workman,  president and CEO of Workman Publishing; and Bob Miller, president and publisher of HarperStudio also listened intently as Friedman talked about her exciting new e-book company, Open Road Integrated Media.

With 70% of the population having access to the internet, 30% of all books in the U.S. being purchased online, and 96% of young adults being connected to a social network, Friedman realized the importance of creating and distributing meaningful content whenever and wherever readers want it. After 30 years in publishing, she says  that “the only constant is change.” However, sometimes change means recognizing the importance of the past and of books that stand the test of time.  Friedman noted that many of the books she reads are the same ones she wants her children and grandchildren to read. So, with the sale of classic works diminishing, she decided to reinvigorate the great masters.  “I like to tell people I am going ‘back to the future,’ ” she said. Open Road will focus on creating e-versions of backlist books; the first three authors on the list are Dame Iris Murdoch, Pat Conroy and William Styron, whose topics, of course, include depression and war. “You can ride that for a long time,” Friedman said to much laughter.

In addition to publishing electronic editions of the literary giants, Open Road will create “e-riginals”, a term Friedman has coined for books that will be born in digital format.  Other functions of the company include self-publishing and print-on-demand. Digital entertainment, with apps, widgets and audio platforms, is also in the works. She described Open Road as a marketing platform which will work with the social network community, websites and blogs and will do a lot of “pushing out and getting feedback.”

Her company already has agreements to create digi-content for two publishers, Grove/Atlantic and Kensington Books. Although Open Road is currently weighted towards fiction, they will publish in any category. Friedman hopes to publish about 1000 books in her first year.

The audience had a chance to meet her partner and Open Road’s President, Jeffrey Sharp, an award-winning movie producer. Sharp, who previously ran a film development division at HarperCollins, talked about potential movie adaptations for Open Road’s backlist.Visit the company’s website www.openroadmedia.com, designed by Code and Theory, to see the company’s first few videos.

When asked about the business model for Open Road, Friedman talked about the benefit of being a small company. Not having the same overhead as larger companies, Open Road has the ability to move quickly when something works or doesn’t, and the flexibility and edge to be potentially successful.  “Bookstores have shrunk, but advances and returns have not,” Friedman noted. With the publishing industry suffering from declining revenue, she argued that it is time to look at another way of doing business. Although, Open Road will not provide author advances, Friedman feels the profit sharing model could be extremely rewarding to authors. Furthermore, she promises a strong marketing arm and adhering to the same five fundamental tenets of publishing she has used throughout her career:

1. Publishing is about relationships

2. Hire the right people

3. Authors are your most important asset

4. Know your audience

5. Move with and embrace technology

As in any conversation about e-books, the subject of the right price came up. Friedman said she though the value of an e-book should be roughly the same as a trade paperback, and cited $14, possibly more for premium content. “The value of an e-book is the same value for the person reading it as any other format of the book,” she offered, rejecting the notion that digital editions had to be “cheap.”  Like DVD’s that include extra footage and content, Open Road will also include ancillary materials, including author bios and interviews. However none of this will be embedded in the actual text; Friedman does not believe in disrupting “the purity of the read.”

All in all, Friedman is bullish not only about her new company, but about the industry in general. “This is the most exciting time for publishing,” she said. “There are more books, more diverse formats, and more opportunities to serve customers in a whole new way.”

by Alyssa Léal

For another take on this event, check out the SCPS News blog’s entry. You can find video of the event here.

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