Charlie Redmayne promises to maintain tradition whilst striking out for new ground at HarperCollins

The Guardian ran an interview of no minor import last week with Charlie Redmayne, the new of UK-based head of HarperCollins who, outside of his general pitch to “take storytelling back from digital rivals” (interesting in its own right) made a couple of comments that aroused curiosity in publishing circles:

“Publishers have historically been the most innovative and creative of organisations,” he said. “But I think that when it came to the digital revolution we came to a point where we stopped innovating and creating. We thought, we’ve done an ebook and that is what it is.

“Have others stolen a march on us? Yes, absolutely. There are now people competing with us who five or 10 years ago were not on our radars … My predecessor used to say publishers are becoming digital content developers. I always used to think she ought to add that digital content developers are becoming publishers.”

Redmayne’s comments are interesting for two primary reasons.

Firstly because it raises broad, industry-wise questions about what actually constitutes a “publisher” in a largely internet dominated age. It has been argued before, with some sympathy from various corners, that the facilitation of easy user-created content now means that “everyone has become a publisher”. While this may seem an assertion that negates itself (if everyone is a publisher, then the term publisher has no meaning and thus nobody is a publisher), it’s fairly uncontroversial to state that the internet has at the very least broadened the concept now to include digital-only websites for writers. When viewed through this lens it would suggest that procedure and method of content creation itself is the problem, rather than presentation.

Secondly and more specifically to the subject matter of the interview: As a publisher HarperCollins has been making some interesting plays in the digital marketplace as of late. One involves the creation and bringing to market of a specific web-portal for digitally accessible CS Lewis titles, which is fascinating in its own right because it shows the degree to which a more traditional book publisher such as HarperCollins values its big-name IPs; to enlist the likes of Digital River in creating a self-contained e-commerce portal for them. How this plays out will be of some curiosity to industry analysts because of the undoubtedly high cost of development work that went into creating the system.

HarperCollins are also keen on leveraging digital content as a way to complement existing print-content. Again, this is a general strategy that a lot of book publishers are employing but now with another major traditional book publisher joining the fray it represents the degree to which digital and print are becoming increasing interdependent and intertwined. It’s all a far cry from the early days of tablet and e-reading devices, when many commentators predicted a proverbial apocalypse for print.

Categories: Industry Research

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