As the second half of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute opened, students eagerly awaited the keynote address from Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, Inc. For many, this introduction was to be inspiration for earnest dreams and professional aspirations. For others, it was a glimpse into the world of books and their ability to influence how we—and the world—think.There is vast chatter about the publishing industry these days, and it’s often hard to know what to believe. As students and young professionals, we have committed our time this summer to the belief that books are far from dead. It’s one thing to cling to such a hope in solitude, but quite more convincing to hear about the (strong) future of publishing from one of the most powerful women in the industry. The book, Reidy said, “will never go away.”
Although the world of book publishing has changed significantly in recent years, Reidy cited studies showing that technologies such as tablets and smart phones are increasing literacy. Furthermore, she considers screen time to be an opportunity to entice a reader as digital has become engrained in the skills and strategies publishers employ.
For Reidy, it is the content rather than the format that matters. As she spoke about eBooks, she said that publishers seek to convince customers that the investment of reading a book is both culturally relevant and worth their time. She believes that a strong online presence and attention from the media are critical to cultivating a milieu in which literature matters. Readers will continue to buy books, Reidy said, “as long as people talk about them.”
Publishing relies on the relationship between the author and the publisher, and Reidy emphasized that finding this balance between art and commerce is essential to success. While she always puts the author and his or her voice first, Reidy also knows that a conservative approach keeps the doors open. “It is easy to publish well and lose money,” she said, “but hard to publish well and make money.”
Reidy left us with five keys to the future of publishing. First, she spoke about the importance of the international marketplace, and the ease that digital has lent to publication across borders. Secondly, she emphasized an increased focus on the direct-to-customer relationship aided by the increased analytics that digital is able to provide as a form of feedback from the consumer to the publisher. While in the past this “feedback” was largely a guessing game full of inefficiencies, Reidy believes that sales data can now lead publishers to act much more effectively.
Her third key was the “expanded content pipeline,” through which self-published authors are able to make their voices heard and grow; the pipeline also makes these authors visible and their work easier for publishers to acquire.
Citing her fourth key, Reidy believes that the increasing flexibility in book formats, cycles, and capabilities increases their accessibility to readers and consequently attracts a larger audience. In other words, ebooks are not limited by a two-inch binding maximum or by shipping costs; because production does not depend on print runs, ebooks are constantly available to readers.
The fifth and final key was “discoverability,” greatly helped by SEO and metadata. Whereas previously readers had to enter a bookstore to buy a book, now internet search as well as the ability of retailers to target specific audiences based on their interests makes the process more transparent—and sometimes more challenging.
The job of the publisher, according to Reidy, is likely to continue to change as publishing keeps pace with technological transformations. Yet the basics remain the same. The publisher, Reidy said, is the quality control. His or her task “is to evaluate writing on its own terms, and decide whether it is of high quality in its category.” Ultimately, Reidy said, the publisher’s job is to allow the author’s unfiltered voice to reach the hands and hearts of readers.
by Amalia Frick