London Book Fair Interviews: Julia Stimpson of Penguin Random House

Julia StimpsonIn the run up to The London Book Fair (see us on Stand X610), we are running a series of interviews with some prominent and interesting figures in the book publishing industry. Asking them for their thoughts on hot button issues that are currently resonating throughout the industry.

Our third interview is with Julia Stimpson, Head of Ebook Operations at Penguin Random House. Julia has over 8 years’ direct experience leading a variety of high profile digital projects.

1. How has digital disrupted traditional publishing workflows, in your experience?

In a big way! Digital activity is now part of everyone’s day job across all areas of our business, and that is no small feat. We’ve set up new supplier relationships, learnt diverse skills, developed innovative systems, explored different business models, created new partnerships, nurtured original ideas and strategies, while at the same time growing all the important areas that have helped shape brilliant authors and create bestselling books. The difference now is that we’re able to give consumers a wider choice of formats to suit their ever-changing needs. In short, the ‘ebook’ workflow is now just the ‘publishing workflow’.
We’ve relished this shake up as it makes us even more prepared to face future challenges with an open and inquisitive approach; foster new collaborations and build our business with as much creative flair as we can.

2. Now the market is starting to show some signs of maturity, do you think digital growth will taper off?

As with any new product lifecycle, sustaining the immense level of growth and uptake we’ve seen over the past couple of years was never on the cards. Now that we’re seeing some stability in the market, we can better identify trends in ebook buying habits as well as produce more accurate forecasting and budgeting. A maturing market is also the perfect time to innovate further.

The ebook is now a fully-fledged product and has been pivotal in driving some of the recent technological advances; bringing books to new readers and making stories more accessible for so many. Now that we’re seeing a more stable market it’s quite clear that ebooks and physical books should have no problem co-existing quite happily.

3) What’s the next big thing in the digital book space?

The million dollar question! There is so much buzz and movement at the moment in the digital space and I think that the emergence of so many start-up companies has had a big influence on how larger publishers are behaving. We’re working much more quickly and collaboratively, are much more ready to experiment and learn from mistakes; basically taking as liberal and lithe an approach to digital publishing as we can. We’re pushing and stretching the market in all directions to see how consumers respond and what takes off; from digital marketing initiatives like Happy Foodie and Dead Good through to ebook and app production, like our Graphic Novel digital programme.

What I’d love to see next is more equality across all the platforms/devices to allow publishers the chance to offer our best and most innovative titles across the market, including bringing books to life with animation and offering interactive features for kids’ activity books. We’re ready; a lot of devices aren’t.

I also think that the increased number of tablets in the classroom is going to shape the change in the educational ebook market and younger children’s titles. Getting children active and engaged in digital content and devices is now fundamental to their growth and development and I’m sure they will emerge as leaders in this area when their time comes!

As a final note, Google Glass blows my mind! I’m not sure it will necessarily be relevant for fiction titles but is a ground breaking concept for database-style content that can be accessed in short, sharp bursts and I definitely think it’s one to watch.

4) Do you see a print renaissance in the near future, with consumers starting to more greatly appreciate the concept of owning something physically tangible?

What the past year has really indicated is that there is certainly a place for both digital and physical to co-exist in the market. I don’t really think a ‘renaissance’ will ever be necessary, as long as there is always choice, and that for me, is the key element here. Take away the choice and you will have a fight on your hands! I also think that the idea that you’re either a physical or an ebook buyer is totally outmoded, as consumers have become savvy about their reading options and now relish the increased choice and availability and purchase the format that is most suited to their needs at the time.

What we need to do is listen carefully to what our consumers are asking for next, in order to determine how we create more appealing ways to integrate our multiple formats and reach as many readers as possible; whether it be bundling, more crossover promotion, digital first, digital shorts, subscription services…Understanding consumer needs will enable us to keep providing the right content, in the right way, to the right people.

The more we get used to our new reading landscape, the less preoccupied about ‘owning’ the book we become, however it will always depend on the book. The great news is that by pushing the boundaries of our digital creativity with books like The Dinosaur that Pooped series and Dr Who: The Vault we are also encouraged to be bolder and more inventive with our physical books. With titles like the incredible graphic novel Building Stories by Chris Ware and The Great War by Joe Sacco, the object really does come into its own.

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